“One time I got so sick I was laid up in the hospital for 24 hours.”
Everything about Brandon Brooks, the Super Bowl LII-winning guard for the Philadelphia Eagles, seems to exude happiness. This is a guy who once attended the wedding of a fan, somebody he had never met, just to be a nice guy. (“He shook everyone’s hand that came up, talked to anyone and took pictures,” the fan later recounted.) He’s a guy who, after coming off the best year of his NFL career, restructured his contract to give Eagles quarterback Nick Foles a pay bump, just because, as he recently tweeted, “the FUCKIN SB MVP DESERVED MORE MONEY.” If there’s an unhappy bone in his 6-foot-5, 346-pound body, we’ve rarely seen it.
But appearances can be deceiving. When Brooks signed with the Houston Texans as a third-round draft pick in 2012, he felt a gnawing anxiety. During his three years with Houston, pregame vomiting was a semi-regular occurrence for him, but never bad enough to become an issue. In 2016 he signed a five-year, $40 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, and his anxiety finally became debilitating. According to Pro Football Focus, Brooks hasn’t allowed a sack since his first game with the Eagles. But the pressure to perform at that level has sometimes made him so sick that he had to be hospitalized, or surrounded by worried teammates in a prayer vigil, like some kind of pregame exorcism. “To me, it was a little bit scary, to tell you the truth,” remembers Eagles center Jason Kelce. “I’d never seen anything like it before.”
After a rocky season last year, filled with a torrent of vomit and his first Super Bowl ring, Brooks claims he’s on the mend, or at least tackling his demons with open eyes. We called him to find out how the nicest guy in the NFL has managed to, if not overcome his anxiety, at least reach a truce.
How long have you had anxiety?
For as long as I can remember. I was an only child, so I had a lot of time on my hands growing up. I tended to overthink stuff, and I always assumed that the worst was gonna happen. I was a pessimist.
At such a young age? Why?
I don’t know. I think I just wanted to live up to my parents expectations. If every little thing wasn’t done flawlessly the first time, it just wasn’t good enough.
So you were a perfectionist?
Yeah. I still am. It only got worse when I got older and went into pro football. When I got my contract with Philly, it heightened everything for me. I didn’t want to let my teammates down, I didn’t want to let the fans down. If I wasn’t perfect every play, every snap, I felt like I was letting the team down, and I wasn’t living up to the high expectations that I and everybody was putting on myself.
When did you start vomiting before games?
It’s happened all my life, not just with football. When I’d be uncomfortable with something, I vomited. But I didn’t think anything of it till I was getting physically ill before games two years ago. That’s when it got really bad. One time I got so sick I was laid up in the hospital for 24 hours. So they checked me out, and every time I got a clean bill of health and they couldn’t figure out what was going on. They ran all the tests you could think about, and I was all good.
How’d you finally figure out what was causing it?
Somebody asked me, “You think it could be something mental?” That never crossed my mind before. I just never thought the human brain was that strong, that it could make you physically ill. But the brain is a powerful thing.