State Your Case: How good was the Rams' Larry Brooks? The numbers don't lie
When you think of great defenses of the 1970s you start with the "Steel Curtain" in Pittsburgh, wind your way through "Doomsday II" in Dallas … move on to Miami's "No Name" defense ... then go north to the "Purple People Eaters" of Minnesota … before arriving at Denver’s "Orange Crush."
But there’s almost no mention of the Los Angeles Rams.
That’s not only unfortunate; it’s unfair. Because the Rams ranked among the best NFL defenses in virtually all categories that matter, and they did it with a collection of stars like Hall-of-Famers Jack Youngblood and Merlin Olsen, Fred Dryer, “Hacksaw” Reynolds, Isiah Robertson and Larry Brooks.
Wait a minute. Who?
He was the team’s star right defensive tackle during the 1970s and was so accomplished that he was named to five consecutive Pro Bowls (1976-80) when they meant something and four All-Pro units – including twice as a first-teamer.
In 1976, for instance, Brooks produced an unofficial 14-1/2 sacks, 74 tackles and 13 tackles for losses in a 14-game season. To appreciate those figures compare them to Rams’ defensive tackle Aaron Donald in 2017 when he was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year for the first time. Like Brooks, Donald played in 14 games that season. Unlike Brooks, he didn’t have 27-1/2 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
He had 17-1/2.
“Larry Brooks,” said historian John Turney of Pro Football Journal, “was someone who was a premier run stopper. He could do that ‘three-point landing’ to perfection – hands to the shoulders and facemask-to-facemask … the ‘butt technique’ that would stop the momentum of any blocker. From there, he’d shed the blocker and make the tackle. In addition, he was a good pass rusher. Not the best but very good.”
Brooks was so good that former broadcaster Tom Brookshier once said Raiders’ Hall-of-Fame guard Gene Upshaw told him “Larry Brooks is the best he ever faced.” Hall-of-Fame guard John Hannah didn’t go that far, but he acknowledged he had a tough time with him … and video of their meeting in 1980 is proof. On one pass rush Brooks tosses Hannah aside, knocking him to the ground to sack quarterback Steve Grogan.
“We howled when we saw those plays on film” Youngblood told Turney. ”The thing is: ‘Brooksie’ did that to a lot of guys.”
The Rams reached the Super Bowl in 1979 but were beaten by Pittsburgh, 31-19. Brooks and Youngblood were first-team All-Pros, with Brooks leading the team’s defensive linemen in tackles that season ... and no surprise there. He led them every year but one during a 1973-80 run.
The one year he missed was 1975 … when he bowed out in mid-season with a knee injury.
“More than a few times,” Brooks told the L.A.Times in 1978, “offensive linemen have come up to me and said, ‘You’re one of the best, man.’ That’s a nice feeling … I mean, it’s great to be patted on the back.”
If you were to project his numbers over a 16-game season, Brooks averaged 80 tackles, nine sacks and seven-and-a-half sacks per year from 1972-81. That would put him in a Hall-of-Fame conversation, especially as a defensive tackle. But like so many seniors we address here, he’s never been a finalist or semifinalist for Canton.
Look, I get it. As I said, he was surrounded … and overshadowed … by pro-football luminaries. He was also on a team that didn’t win a Super Bowl and went to only one in his career. Nevertheless, that doesn’t diminish his accomplishments.
Larry Brooks was an invaluable part of a defense that during his career (1972-81) was among the best in the NFL. It ranked first in fewest yards allowed, second in rushing yards, had the most sacks and allowed the fewest passing yards, the second-fewest points, the second-fewest rushing TDs and the third-best passer rating.
Oh, yeah, it also produced the fifth-most interceptions.
In 1973, the Rams didn't allow an opponent to produce 300 yards in any of 14 regular-season games. Two years later they allowed a league-low 135 points, including 32 over their last six starts. And in 1976 they led the league in rushing defense for the third time in four years.
I think you get the idea. The Rams were an exceptional defense.
Turney makes the argument that Larry Brooks was as important to those Rams as Hall-of-Fame candidate Bryant Young was to the San Francisco 49ers’ defense two decades later. Yet you never hear of him, and you rarely hear of that Rams’ defense.
Too bad. Both deserve more.