Brooks, Carney entering Saints Hall of Fame
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — When Aaron Brooks learned he would join longtime kicker John Carney as a 2014 inductee in the Saints Hall of Fame, the former quarterback wondered what kind of reception he'd get — and it made him nervous.
"I felt like I didn't leave the way I wanted to," Brooks said Tuesday, when his and Carney's elections to the hall were announced. "It's kind of hard to come to grips with or understand how I'm going to be perceived."
When Carney was informed of his election, he was "quite shocked, actually, because I didn't even consider this."
"To be part of the great men, coaches and players that have played at this organization and have accomplished so much — to be recognized like that (is) a real blessing," Carney said.
What seemed fitting to the former teammates was that they'd be honored together. As Carney recalled, he wore No. 3 and Brooks wore No. 2, so they inevitably were introduced, one after the other, at various gatherings.
"We always had to enter the ball room together and here we are again, entering together — and that's special," Carney said.
Brooks became the Saints' starting quarterback in November 2000 and led the club to its first playoff victory that season over the St. Louis Rams.
The former Virginia signal-caller started 92 games during six seasons in New Orleans. His 120 TD passes rank second all-time in Saints history, and his 19,156 yards passing rank third.
Yet Brooks' career spanned several seasons in which the Saints narrowly fell short of playoff expectations, and he was ultimately let go after the 2005 season, when the Saints went 3-13 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Carney said Brooks was a supremely talented athlete and a "cool character" who never seemed rattled, but was easily misunderstood. On drive-stalling interceptions or incompletions, television close-ups of Brooks often seemed to show him smiling, which bothered fans and emboldened Brooks' vocal critics.
"I was smiling," Brooks said. "That was always my mindset, to keep it on a positive level, to really be upbeat, uplifting and to enjoy the game.
"But it brought on so much criticism that it almost allowed people and individuals to take my happiness away," Brooks said. "I couldn't explain it. There was no way that it was going to come out in a positive light, so I just chose not to even speak on it."
After leaving the Saints, Brooks played one season for Oakland and then was out of football for good. He said it took more than a year before he started to resemble the generally happy person he was growing up and for the first few years of his NFL career. He only wondered if New Orleans, a place he loved, would ever embrace him again.
"That's why it's so emotional to me," Brooks said of his impending induction, which will occur during a home game to be determined this coming season.
Carney, a former Notre Dame kicker who played 23 years in the NFL, spent all or part of eight seasons in New Orleans between 2001 and 2010, hitting a franchise record 82.8 percent of his field goal attempts as a Saint. His 168 field goals made rank second in team history.
His 31 made field goals in 2002 remain tied for a franchise single-season record.
One of Carney's favorite moments as a Saint came in the regular season opener of 2005, when he hit a game-winning field goal at Carolina less than two weeks after Katrina had devastated New Orleans. The kick "was special," Carney said, "because of what it meant to the region."