Tom Brookshier, broadcaster and Eagles great, dies

Tom Brookshier (right) with Angelo Cataldi at WIP-AM (610). Mr. Brookshier, at the time a part-owner of the station, hired Cataldi in the late 1980s to launch its sports-talk format.
Tom Brookshier (right) with Angelo Cataldi at WIP-AM (610). Mr. Brookshier, at the time a part-owner of the station, hired Cataldi in the late 1980s to launch its sports-talk format.
Posted: January 31, 2010

Tom Brookshier, according to his friends, knew how to tackle.

Whether on the football field or as a television and radio personality, his impact was equally immense and intense.

He was an all-pro on the last Eagles team to win an NFL championship, in 1960, and was part of CBS's top NFL broadcast team during the 1970s along with his close friend Pat Summerall. In the late 1980s he hired Angelo Cataldi, launching the 610 WIP sports-talk format that remains in place today.

Mr. Brookshier, 78, died Friday of cancer at Lankenau Hospital.

"He was a very complex and wonderful person," said Dick Vermeil, the former Eagles coach who later became a broadcast partner with Brookshier at CBS. "He had great compassion for people, and he could be very intense. He was a tough football player, but he was also gentle as a teddy bear. He had just an unbelievable blend of positive qualities. He's a Philadelphia icon just like Chuck Bednarik."

A New Mexico native who played college football at the University of Colorado, Mr. Brookshier came to Philadelphia when the Eagles selected him in the 10th round of the 1953 NFL draft. In the years that followed, he fell in love with Philadelphia, according to his wife, Barbara.

"After he broke his leg in 1961 and his career was over, we were going to go back to Denver," Barbara Brookshier said. "That was our dream place. But then when it was time to go, we looked at each other and said, 'We can't leave Philly.' "

As a rookie defensive back, Mr. Brookshier intercepted eight passes in 12 games. Then he didn't play in the NFL for the next two seasons.

"He had been in the ROTC at Colorado, and he went into active duty for two years in the Air Force," said Jim Gallagher, a former Eagles executive who spent 46 seasons with the organization.

During his time in the Air Force, Mr. Brookshier became an assistant coach for the first Air Force Academy football team, where he also worked with Buck Shaw, his future head coach with the Eagles.

Mr. Brookshier returned to the Eagles in 1956 at the age of 25, and the team won a total of nine games in his next three seasons. By 1959, with Shaw in his second season as the head coach, the Eagles were on the rise, and Mr. Brookshier was a major reason.

"If you had somebody you wanted on your team, it was old Tom Brookshier - number 40," said Tommy McDonald, a Hall of Fame split end who was a teammate of Brookshier's for five seasons. "He was a really good leader. He was right there with Chuck Bednarik. They were the two guys that really, really stood up for that defense big time."

McDonald said Brookshier's ferocity as a defensive back helped him become a Hall of Fame receiver.

"He helped me learn how to run pass patterns," McDonald said. "It was the best competition I could get. He taught me how to get into the end zone. Brookie was great at covering guys."

Gallagher said the 1960 Eagles did not always get a lot of respect from other teams in the NFL, and that bothered Brookshier.

"I remember Alex Karras from Detroit was walking off the field after a game at Franklin field, and he looked over and said, 'I wish we could play you guys again,' " Gallagher said. "Brookie looked at him and said, 'We can't wait for you, we're on our way to the championship.'

"The thing you remembered about him was how he tackled. He hit you around the thighs, and he went down to your ankles to make sure he took you down. He and Irv Cross were the best tacklers I ever saw."

According to Vermeil, Mr. Brookshier's passion for tackling never waned.

"He was a tough, intense, and committed player," Vermeil said. "He wanted everybody else around him to be just as dedicated. He loved the Philadelphia Eagles and Andy Reid, but he hated when a guy in the secondary missed a tackle. It would really bother him. He'd say, 'They're getting paid all that money and not hitting anybody.' "

Mr. Brookshier's football career ended at the age of 30 in 1961, when he fractured his leg during a game against the Chicago Bears.

His television career started almost immediately after as he became part of the local CBS affiliate, WCAU-TV, where he worked with Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Whitaker, a Philadelphia native.

"The first time I ever met him was when he was a rookie with the Eagles," Whitaker said. "I had a public-speaking engagement, and I brought him with me, and he was so funny. We used to have a producer at the station who said, 'Brookshier doesn't know how good he is.' "

The former Eagles defensive back became a giant in the profession, thanks to his pairing with Pat Summerall, a former rival from the New York Giants whom Brookshier once hit so hard that he split his helmet.

"He became like a brother to me," said Summerall, who was at the Brookshier home in West Conshohocken for a gathering of family and friends yesterday. "He was the best man in my wedding. He was as close a friend as I ever had."

In the 1970s, Summerall and Brookshier were the No. 1 NFL broadcast team for CBS, working three Super Bowls together, including one when Dallas running back Duane Thomas stood silently as Brookshier questioned him. Thomas had not spoken during the week leading up to the game, and after being named the MVP of the Super Bowl he fielded this question from Brookshier: "Are you really that fast?"

"Evidently," Thomas responded.

Dead air followed.

"What I remember about that interview is that I was standing close by with Roger Staubach because we didn't know how things were going to go," Summerall said. "Jim Brown had become a mentor to Thomas, and he was standing close by the whole time. He was a very intimidating figure. We also had a public relations guy who couldn't remember who he was supposed to call after the game. He was supposed to call President Nixon. If he had made that call, the Thomas interview doesn't happen."

Somewhat more controversially, Brookshier was pulled from a game assignment following an ill-advised comment about the University of Louisville basketball team during a 1983 CBS football broadcast. During a promotion for the basketball game telecast, Brookshier made a derisive comment about the intelligence of the Louisville players. He expressed regret for the comment and made amends with Louisville officials.

Summerall said Brookshier was his first choice as a broadcast partner.

"We had worked together at NFL Films, and I went to CBS and asked about doing play- by-play," Summerall said. "They asked me who I wanted for my color analyst, and I told them Tom. At that time, it was very unique because we were both ex-players. I don't think anybody had hired ex-players before."

Those two remained together until CBS paired John Madden with Summerall in 1981.

"I was really against that move when they did it," Summerall said.

Brookshier became a play-by-play man and eventually worked with Vermeil as his color commentator in 1982. He remained at CBS until 1987.

Two years later, Brookshier owned a small part of WIP-AM (610) when a group of reporters from The Inquirer walked into the station to pitch an idea for a morning show.

"Al [Morganti] and I were at The Inquirer, and WIP had just gone over to sports," Cataldi said. "They didn't have 24-hour programming, and Al thought we could sell ourselves as radio guys. I let Al do all the talking because I thought we were in over our heads."

That was a Friday. Monday morning, Cataldi said, he went on the air for a one-hour show.

"It was a disaster - the worst hour in the history of radio," Cataldi said. "When we walked out of the studio, Brookie was laughing. He said, 'Don't worry, you guys will get better.' He said he thought it was pretty funny."

Twenty years later, Cataldi and Morganti are still filling the morning time slot at WIP. Cataldi spent two years co-hosting the show with Brookshier.

"I remember when I first started working with him, I walked in at 4 a.m. to prepare for the show, and he was already there," Cataldi said. "I'm thinking to myself, 'What is he doing here? This is a guy whose number was retired by the Eagles who worked at CBS for 25 years, mostly as a number-one analyst, and he's prepping at 4 a.m. I don't think anybody realized how hard he worked."

Barbara Brookshier said her husband was most proud of the impact he had on the radio station.

"That was at a time in his life when he really wanted a new project," she said. "He started that show with Angelo, and he really enjoyed it."

In addition to his wife, Barbara, Mr. Brookshier is survived by daughters Betsy and Linda; a son, Thomas Jr.; and a granddaughter.

Friends may call from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday at the Ardmore Presbyterian Church, 5 West Montgomery Ave. (near intersection of Millcreek Road) in Ardmore. A memorial service will begin at 11 a.m., followed by a private burial.

Donations may be made to Devereux Foundation, Devereux Pennsylvania Development Office, 30 South Valley Rd., Suite 206, Paoli, Pa. 19301; or Eagles Fly for Leukemia, 5100 State Rd., Suite W310, Drexel Hill, Pa., 19026; or Food for the Poor, www.foodforthepoor.org.


INSIDE

Bill Lyon recalls his friend and the laughter

he left in his wake. Sports,E1.


Inquirer staff writers Frank Fitzpatrick and Sally Downey contributed to this article.

Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.

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