Brackett Ready to Tackle Another Opportunity

Against odds that would make a lesser man crumble, Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett pushes on, taking advantage of every opportunity. On Sunday, another one awaits.

Men from 32 teams gather early each year and begin offseason workouts and mini-camps with training camp still months away. And then after gaining some talent and losing some during the free agency and NFL Draft periods, they go through the rigorous weeding out process of training camp in hopes of being one of the 53 men left standing when teams make their final roster cuts.

And after surviving that process, then the challenge truly begins. The journey towards a championship that only one team can claim after a grueling five-month trek that will leave many sidelined with injuries along the way. It's an unlikely outcome for each of the NFL's 32 teams. And if you think that just making it to the Super Bowl, being able to say that you played in one, provides a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, you don't understand the mentality of players like Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett

"The circumstances are that if you lose the Super Bowl, you feel like 31 other teams," he said this week.

Brackett's never settled for being the runner-up or settling for less than his goals. As a walk-on at Rutgers University, he never once doubted his ability to succeed and eventually work his way up through the ranks of the NFL.

"I have always had faith in myself and always believed that I could overcome," he said. "I believed that I could do anything that I put my mind to." 

Standing face-to-face with Brackett in a public place, you wouldn't pick him out as a professional football player. At 5-foot-11, 235 pounds, he could easily pass for a businessman who is diligent about hitting the gym and taking care of his body. But he's got the right skill set and size for the Colts' defense, the one that he has led since being selected defensive captain by his teammates earlier this year. 

You see, with Gary Brackett, it's the size of his heart that makes the difference.

After signing with the Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2003, Brackett backed up Rob Morris at middle linebacker and made a name for himself by making 25 special teams tackles, best on the team along with defensive back Cliff Crosby. It was the same way he got noticed at Rutgers, earning the team's 12th Man Award his freshman year for his special teams play before earning a starter's role there. He repeated the feat in 2004 by tying defensive back Gerome Sapp for the lead as both were credited with 16 stops that season.

(Getty Images/Chris McGrath)
When he earned the opportunity to start at middle linebacker in 2005, Brackett stormed the scene and posted a team-leading 131 tackles on defense and tacked on a sack and three interceptions. His ability to rise to that level of performance in his third season after joining the team as an undrafted free agent was remarkable enough, but he did it despite going through a period of personal tragedy during the 2003 and 2004 seasons that few people can understand, let alone actually endure. Brackett lost both of his parents and a brother over a 16-month period. 

As he flew down to Miami with his teammates on Monday, he had time to reflect on all that has happened since the first day he put on a Colts uniform. He pulled out his digital camera that still has some old photos stored on it and scrolled through them as the plane flew south from Indianapolis.

"It had pictures of my first season with pictures of my brother, my mother and some of the old houses we lived in," he said. "Not having them here is kind of tough, but I think they are still going to be in the house. I think they are still looking down on me from above."

This season was also tough on Brackett, but in a totally different way. Despite finishing second on the team in tackles, Brackett was the leader of a defense that was repeatedly called out by the media and fans. Indianapolis was ranked dead last in the league against the run, and even though their overall defensive performance put them in the middle of the pack in the NFL's rankings, the common chatter on the street was that Indy couldn't win a Super Bowl if they couldn't stop the run. 

"I guess it was just the guys in the scheme not being consistent enough," Brackett said. "I think at times we played good defense. I don't think you can go through the NFL and have a 12-4 season without playing good defense.

"But at this point right now, we are playing fast, we're tackling a lot better, and we are making the most out of our opportunities." 

On Sunday, Brackett will have the ultimate opportunity that football players of all ages across the country dream about. He has the chance to win a championship that will allow him to hoist a Lombardi Trophy into the air and then wear a special ring that will put him amongst some very elite company.

The pressure of that situation inspires some men to new heights of performance. It causes others to make mistakes. So how will Brackett approach the biggest game of his life?

"I think the important thing is to try and relax and go out there and play like it's a regular game at a regular speed and be more efficient," he said. "I think guys get in trouble when they try to do more than they usually do."

Despite that even-keeled response, you have to wonder if Brackett and his teammates -- who have been knocking on the door of a Super Bowl appearance for a few years -- will feel an emotional rush and a sense that they've finally arrived when they emerge from their tunnel and run onto the field on Sunday night in front of a worldwide audience. 

"Not yet," Bracket explained. "I think finally [arrived] is when you win. I think up until that point, you can't be in awe of the situation.

"Our goal has always been to win the Super Bowl and that's what we are down here for."

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