Today he’s a 64-year-old, button-down financial adviser sitting at a polished table in a Mission Valley high-rise office, his current locker room. He’s also head of the John Brockington Foundation, a charity that helps sufferers of kidney disease.
Fellow sufferers, I should add. In 2000, Brockington came down with kidney disease and was on dialysis for weeks. His illness had nothing to do with the punishment he absorbed on the football field.
It was then that a friend, Diane Scott, came to his rescue by donating one of her kidneys. The transplant took, and so did they. They were married in 2003, and today they partner in raising money to assist local kidney-disease patients with expenses not covered by other sources. To date, the pair has raised about $180,000. They rely on dialysis clinics and social workers to identify those in greatest need of help.
Brockington had a happy upbringing in the Brooklyn projects, but as he points out, it was a white, Jewish project. “More than once, on my paper route, I lit a stove on the Sabbath that (the religiously observant) couldn’t.”
Let’s get back to running over people.
Brockington was a 225-pound bruiser, fast and tough enough to be a favorite of Ohio State coach Woody Hayes, a man who may have thought Gen. Patton was too soft. Brockington also found favor as a pro in Green Bay with fans as finicky as Napa Valley wine sippers.
He was a first-round draft choice and rookie of the year in 1971. He was given a $55,000 signing bonus and his salary for the first three years was $24,000, $26,000 and $32,000, in that order. His career lasted seven years and resulted in more than 5,000 yards gained. He’s in the Packer Hall of Fame.
He sits today in his office, having survived a thousand hits from football predators about as friendly as hung-over Cossacks. He’s an open, friendly guy who seems to have avoided the “Don’t you know who I am?” insecurity curse of so many ex-jocks.
As the grateful possessor of his own knees and a clear head that survived being used like a volleyball for years, Brockington is in a position to look backward with a smile on a time probably even tougher than the present-day NFL.
“Were we meaner back then? These guys today are rough and tumble dudes, but who could be meaner than Dick Butkus? The game was meaner and more aggressive when I played, because the rules allowed it.
“Take Butkus. Everybody in the league understood who he was. We would game-plan around him. Our offensive coordinator told us that in the NFL you don’t game-plan against defenses, you game-plan against personnel. It’s no use running (a dive play) if Butkus is in the middle. It’s not going to work. And we wouldn’t run a (pass) pattern across the middle because he could light you up before the ball was even thrown.”
But Brockington could light a fire under the mean thermometer. He tells of a time playing the Dolphins in Miami when all-pro safety Jake Scott rushed the quarterback Brockington was defending. “Scott comes in on a blitz. I hit him in his head with my forearm and knocked him clean out. I carried him to the sidelines because I didn’t want him lying on the field.
“I was at an autograph session this year, and Jim Langer, who played center on that Dolphins team, looked at me and said, ‘You’re the guy who knocked out Jake Scott.’ I said, ‘How’d you remember that? That was in 1972.’ He said, ‘Everyone in the stadium heard that hit.’ ”
Brockington tells of another incident when the wild-west rules of the ’70s led to another laying-out in which he occupied the preferred role. “Another time, playing Denver, and George Hoey (defensive back who also played for the Chargers) was coming in, and I broke his jaw. He was a little guy and he didn’t see me. I hit him in the head, which you could do. You could also hit a quarterback in the head. We could use crackback blocks: An outside linebacker comes across, he’s not looking, and a big wide receiver blindsides him. Crack.”
If this suggests a Jekyll and Hyde aspect of Brockington, that was just the way it was done back in his day. If he wanted to remain employed and play the game … well, he had to play the game. However, as this competitive man tells his stories, it’s apparent he’s not filled with remorse at the memory of leveling poor little George Hoey, who today might still have difficulty chewing.
He was not always on the giving end. Brockington remembers the hardest hit he endured — from a strong safety of the Vikings. “He hit me in the thigh. My thigh pad folded into my leg. The pain! I could not believe how much it hurt. I’ve never felt pain like that in my whole life. I could not move. I had ice on my leg the whole night to control the (internal) bleeding.”
Brockington loves the snarky give-and-take between players. He makes mention of the recent contretemps started by retired lineman Warren Sapp, who insulted Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall, calling him a “retard.” Marshall countered with his own insult, referencing the rocky personal life of his antagonist, saying: Three things you don’t take advice from Warren Sapp on: finances, parenthood and taxes.”
Brockington recites the exchange with glee, demonstrating that he misses the type of locker room verbal punching that tough, sweaty men develop to an art form.
Now, long after the hits have healed and Brockington’s belt size has grown a couple of notches, but only a couple, he looks back on his years in football with fondness. “What better way is there to earn a living? Come on! You’re playing a game you played as a kid.”
Regardless of how much money he might make for clients or how much he raises for charity, I’ll bet that when John Brockington’s head hits the pillow, he’s back in Green Bay, either breaking a long run or laughing at the biting locker room humor of the guys.
Fred Dickey of Cardiff is a novelist and award-winning magazine writer who believes every life is an adventure. He welcomes column ideas and other suggestions; contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.