BOULDER — Tom Brookshier, one of the first University of Colorado stars in the National Football League who went on to make his niche in broadcasting, died Friday in Philadelphia due to complications from a seven month battle with gallbladder cancer. He was 78.
“We have lost a great Buffalo, a true Buffalo,” CU athletic director Mike Bohn said. “Those of us who grew up in the 1970s watching the NFL knew who and how big a name in the business Tom Brookshier was.”
Brookshier was a native of Roswell, N.M., born Dec. 16, 1931, and came to CU from Roswell High School, where he was an all-state performer in football, basketball and baseball. At Colorado, he went on to letter three seasons (1950-51-52) at defensive right halfback and fullback in the old platoon days of the sport, earning a reputation as one of the fiercest hitters in the Big Seven Conference. He earned first-team All-Big 7 honors as a junior and senior and in 1989, was named honorable mention on CU’s All-Century team (only 53 players were selected to the two units, 25 on the first-team).
He had six career interceptions for the Buffaloes, and also excelled as a return man on both kickoffs and punts; he was among the national leaders with a 12.0 average for 18 returns in 1951, which included a 65-yard run for a touchdown against Kansas in Boulder, a key moment in CU’s 35-27 win.
Brookshire was also a pitcher on the Buffalo baseball team, mostly in relief. He was 2-0 as a senior and struck out 30 in just 26 innings pitched. Unfortunately, he also walked 32, prompting former teammate Frank Bernardi to recall Saturday, “He had a really good fastball, he just never knew where it was going.”
He brought his hard-hitting reputation into the NFL, where he was a 10th round draft pick (117th overall) by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1953 draft. He would spend his entire seven-year NFL career with the Eagles (1953, 1956-61), playing 76 games at cornerback with 20 interceptions and two fumble recoveries; he earned All-Pro honors in 1959 and 1960 and is one seven Philadelphia players to have his number, 40, retired (he wore 23 at Colorado). He made eight of those interceptions in his rookie year before he spent the next two years out of football, voluntarily joining and then serving in the United States Air Force. He had been a member of the Air Force ROTC while in school in Boulder, and while at the Academy, was an assistant coach for the Falcons’ fledgling freshman football program that was setting the table for a Division I varsity debut in 1956.
He was a member of Philadelphia’s last NFL championship team, the 1960 squad that beat Green Bay, 17-13, as the Eagles conquered the might coach Vince Lombardi, quarterback Bart Starr and another former Buff, Boyd Dowler.
After he retired due to a broken leg he suffered against Chicago in 1961, he turned to broadcasting — in a most unique fashion. While still in his hospital bed with the injury, CBS radio asked him to do a sports show in the mornings. He agreed and engineers showed up the very next day, wiring the room for the broadcast. After that, he began filling in on WCAU-TV in Philadelphia, and when another broadcasting legend, Jack Whitaker, moved on to the network in 1964, he took over full-time. That kept the Brookshiers in Philadelphia; they originally had planned to return to Colorado after his playing days. It was there where Brookshier became the first former athlete to do play-by-play.
He soon partnered with another legend, Pat Summerall, for over 10 years as CBS’ No. 1 broadcast team for NFL games until 1981, when he was then paired with Dick Vermeil after John Madden left coaching and joined CBS. He also handled other network assignments until retiring in 1987.
But the Summerall-Brookshier pairing basically served as the pioneer from the gridiron to the broadcasting booth, arguably the first duo to pull it off, Summerall as the play-the-play man and Brookshier as the expert analyst. The duo first worked together at NFL Films and called four Super Bowls together and were often called “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” by those who knew them best.
He remained involved in local radio and television in Philadelphia, and was involved with the community until he got sick last June.
He is survived by his wife, Barbara, three children, Linda, Tommy and Betsy, one grandchild, Katie, and a sister Beverly. He was preceded in death by his parents, two brothers and a sister.
Brookshier was like family to Zack Jordan and his family, as they were best friends at CU and remained close to this day even though Jordans stayed in the Denver area. Jordan’s widow, Nancy, said Saturday, “Many people said they were Tom’s best friend. But that’s the way he was. He was extremely well-liked, kind, simply a good man. Everybody was his best friend.”
Visitation is set for this Saturday (Feb. 6) from 9:30-11:00 a.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Ardmore, Pa. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Devereux Foundation, 444 Devereux Dr., P.O. Box 638, Villanova, PA 19085, or Eagles Fly for Leukemia, 5100 State Rd., Drexel Hill, PA 19026, or Food for the Poor, www.foodforthepoor.org.
What They’re Saying About Tom Brookshier
"A great guy and a helluva player. I came in as a rookie when he was here, but I give him credit for keeping me loose, a lot of us loose. He was a care free, nonchalant, happy go lucky kind of guy except on the field during the games. He always had a smile on his face, a real gabber. That tended to keep everyone around him calm, and it really affected me.” — Frank Bernardi, CU Football & Basketball Teammate, 1951-53
"He was a leader on the field and in the locker room, and might have been the toughest defensive back of our era. He was a hitter. We've lost one of the great Eagles of all time." — Eagles Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik
"Well, look at what we did! Nobody said we were going to beat Green Bay. The 1960 team lost a brother. That 1960 team was family. He had an outstanding personality. He was a happy person to be around." — Eagles Hall of Fame receiver Tommy McDonald.
"Brookie was one of our early icons, not only in athletics, but the entire university. He was one of our first successful professional players, and followed with a great national broadcasting career. To mention his name with those CU alums like Byron White and Glenn Miller is certainly not out of place.” — Late CU Sports Information Director Fred Casotti (1979 quote).
"Tom Brookshier will be missed by his friends, colleagues and admirers. His voice and his style will forever be part of the history of sports television and proudly recognized in the foundation and the future of CBS Sports." — CBS Sports president Sean McManus.
"He bled green and I will always cherish our conversations and the relationship that we fostered throughout my tenure." —Philadelphia Eagles Coach Andy Reid.
"Tom Brookshier was an icon in Philadelphia sports. When I was traded to the Eagles in 1977, Tom took me under his wing and taught me the passion of Philadelphia Eagles fans. For that, I am forever grateful." — Ron Jaworski, Philadelphia quarterback & ESPN analyst
(Information from the Associated Press and the Philadelphia Inquirer was shared in this report.)