Robert Brooks of the Green Bay Packers just hates to sit still, which, if you think about it, isn't all bad if you're a kick returner. When a couple of thousand pounds of malevolence are bearing down on you every Sunday, trying to separate you from the ball—and your senses—it's a pretty good idea to keep moving.
Brooks moved around so well last year that he led the NFL in kickoff returns with a 26.6-yard average. He also returned punts for the Pack, finishing with a solid 8.4-yard return average in that category. "I knew that every time I got my hands on the ball, I had to prove myself," says Brooks, 24, who was taken in the third round of the '92 draft after starring as a wide receiver at the University of South Carolina. "Special teams were the only way I could get the Packers to notice me."
When he's off the field, Brooks remains a perpetual-motion machine. Every Friday evening and Saturday afternoon, for instance, he sets up shop in his basement and serves as the Packers' team barber—one chair, no waiting, bald fades a specialty. But just about every other waking hour he spends working on his music business.
Two years ago he, his brother Stanley and their cousin Linc Brewer started their own record company, Shoo-In Productions, in Brooks's hometown of Greenwood, S.C. They built a 24-track recording studio onto the back of Brewer's house. There they write and record their own songs, and this month they will release the first album they have produced, by a group called Minds of the Hood, a rhythm-and-blues/rap group from Augusta. All the music on the CD, which is called Straight from the Bushes, was written by Robert, Stanley and Linc.
"I'm a producer and hope to maybe someday be an artist as well," says Brooks. "But a lot of artists do not own their own labels. We want to take our time with this company, make sure we own everything and keep it between us. This way any money we make goes straight to us."
Robert is probably the most intuitive of the musicians. He's a self-taught keyboard player who creates songs with the help of a computer. Melodies pop into his head at the most unpredictable moments—in the middle of a conversation, while driving his car. When they do, he usually rushes to the phone so he can hum the song to Stanley, who plays the melody out on a computerized keyboard, which stores the tune till they can work on it later.
That work arrangement will have to do for the immediate future because Brooks figures to be in Green Bay for a while. This year he is still returning punts, but he's giving up his kick-returning duties because he has assumed an expanded role in the team's offense. The Packers need a receiving threat to take the heat off All-Pro Sterling Sharpe, especially now that they are without tight end Jackie Harris, who signed as a free agent with Tampa Bay in the off-season. Brooks broke Sharpe's school record for most career touchdown receptions at South Carolina, and he proved last year that he has good hands and is dangerous in the open field, so now he is starting opposite Sharpe. Through the first three games of the season Brooks has caught 10 passes, third best on the team.
"I'm achievement oriented," says Brooks. "It frustrates me when I hear people say that the Packers don't have a receiver other than Sterling Sharpe. I'm working hard so that someday I'll be able to step out of his shadow and be recognized."