Brooks Reed saunters up to his locker at M&T Bank Stadium looking every bit his 32 years while simultaneously looking like the springiest chicken in all of Baltimore.
Reed’s Arizona Cardinals — doesn’t that sound nice? — have just fallen to the upstart Ravens, with Lamar Jackson dropping dimes all over the field, but Reed is little worse for the wear. And for a reason: On this beautiful Sunday afternoon, he played just four defensive snaps and 10 special teams snaps.
Life and football are a bit different for Reed now, a linebacker seven months removed from his release from the Atlanta Falcons, a decade after his time as an Arizona Wildcats stalwart and 15 years from a sensational career at Sabino High School.
He’s back where he started, or at least close, having signed with the Cardinals after being on the open market for all of one day. He’s living up in Phoenix and playing in Glendale, a brief enough drive up Interstate 10. He has a beautiful wife and a beautiful new baby boy, and life is good.
Who cares if he’s getting 14 snaps? Life isn’t on a snap count.
The Star caught up with Reed to talk about life, football and aging gracefully:
After starting for so much of your career, how have you shifted to this new role as a backup?
A: “I’m always ready and prepared. I know I’m backing up two Hall of Fame guys (Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs), so I’m not mad about not playing. My goal is to always be ready for that moment that I have to go in and not let that talent step down.”
How did you end up signing with Arizona?
A: “(Defensive coordinator) Vance Joseph was my coach with the Texans (from 2011-13), and we had a good relationship in Houston. Once he found out I was a free agent, he said, ‘We need that rotating guy to come in, and you’re that guy.’ It was quick. I was picked up like a day after I was released.”
Was your release from the Falcons a big surprise?
A: “I’m a realist. The year I had last year, I knew I wasn’t going to be their premier pass rusher type of guy. I figured I would embrace that the best way I can, which means to contribute any way I can.”
With your career shifting into this new phase, have you thought about making the next step after football? Or has it been football all the way?
A: “My only goal was to make the NFL. When I was younger, I really believed football was my only option. I just didn’t have the confidence to think I could do something after football. I knew I was good at it, and that if I worked hard enough I could make a future out of it.”
What keeps you playing football despite its dangers?
A: “Everyone lives for the glory of the game. Growing up watching “NFL Live,” I thought, ‘Man, I wish I could be on that show with a highlight someday.’ And it’s so fun to be around a bunch of guys who are like you. It’s unlike any job in the whole world. I’ve made so many longtime friends being on different teams. The relationships you gather the longer you keep playing, it’s really amazing.”
How have you continued to play into your 30s when the average life span of an NFL career is under three years?
A: “First and foremost, I’ve been really lucky. And have remained, luckily, injury-free toward the end of my career. I’ve had a knack of staying away from bad things happening. My wife, my wife’s family is so supportive. You need that work-life balance to keep going. Some guys burn out so quick. I’m just having fun now. I’ve done it for so long, there’s less pressure. I know where I am in my career. It’s all fun now.”
How have you adjusted to your age and health on the football field? Are you just waking up sore all the time?
A: “That’s something new. It’s so aggravating. It’s like, ‘Why?’ Every game, you know something is going to be hurting the next day.”
And it’s never a big injury, but the littlest thing…
A: “That is probably the worst thing. My pinky! My whole job is inside leverage, and there was a point I was playing with one hand. I was like either put me on IR or cut this thing off.”
In this new, more relaxed frame-of-mind, have you had to change your goals, or had to become a different type of player and teammate?
A: “I’ve always had that role, a guy who can be dependable and play hard; every team needs that kind of guy. So I embrace it. I had goals growing up, even before I played in the NFL, and there was a little belief that I had as a kid that I spoke into the universe.”
When you look back at that little kid from Tucson, how incredible is it that you’ve ended up back in Arizona?
A: “It’s awesome being in the place where I started — I have somewhat of a fan base here. My family can come to games. I hope I can keep contributing and see how long I can keep doing this. I’ve always taken one year at a time. Every day is a journey.”
Are you constantly getting hit up for tickets?
A: “Luckily it’s been nine years, so everyone is like, ‘He still plays?’ But it’s great, man. This is the only time in your life people will be at a football game cheering for you, a 32-year old man playing a kid’s game.”