A professional football career never panned out following a record-setting career as a wide receiver at Eastern Washington University, but Tony Brooks has never lost the thirst for competition.
He built a successful career as a State Farm Insurance agent, which in turn allowed him to land a national commercial for the company.
“I didn’t know how to do it right the first time, but if you’re coachable … that’s the way I felt with this commercial,” he said about the experience. “That probably comes from sports.”
When the commercial aired, ol’ No. 83 was back in the spotlight.
That wasn’t the goal for Brooks, but it’s not surprising that’s where he ended up.
When he finished at EWU in 1993 he had the career record of 197 receptions for 3,013 yards and 26 touchdowns as well as the single-season record for catches (63). Those numbers landed him on the “100 for 100” All-Time Team the school selected in 2008 and an opportunity with Winnipeg in the Canadian Football League.
“As soon as that didn’t work out I came back and took a position with State Farm,” he said.
After six years in claims in Vancouver, Wash., he moved into sales and back to Tacoma in 2000, where he and his wife, Leonor, his high school sweetheart at Mount Tahoma, met as sophomores. While raising a family – Allie is 12 and Lisi is 9 – Brooks’ agency flourished.
“It’s the same in the business world as setting records at Eastern Washington,” said Brooks, who quickly built his agency into the company’s top 50 nationwide. “It’s like winning championships or being All-American at your position.”
That was a challenge he could relate to and once he got to the top he didn’t relax.
“A lot of guys have athletic ability, but without coaching and preparing you won’t be successful,” he said. “It’s really not a lot different being prepared in the business world.
“There comes a point where it’s easy to be content with where you are. It’s that competitive spirit you get from being involved that pushes you beyond that point.”
That’s why he landed in the commercial. Only top agents are considered and few get to try out.
“The reason they picked me, I’m not sure,” Brooks admitted. “Maybe I read the lines right. I think it’s more of a Godsend (they) ended up picking me.”
Shooting the commercial, where Brooks’ role is talking to a client’s wife on the telephone, explaining how he didn’t buy her husband a falcon, was quite an experience.
“The lead camera guy was the guy who shot ‘Titanic,’ ” Brooks said. “He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He was really patient with me. I was pretty nervous; this was way outside what I have skill to do. I’m thinking, ‘I’m the only guy that’s not professional … I’m the potential weak link.’ ”
Brooks did as he was told, but when the shoot took 20 minutes he thought he must be doing something wrong.
“At the end he said, ‘I think you got it (right way), I just want enough film to get a different take,’ ” said Brooks, who spent the rest of the day watching the actors and animals that make up the commercial.
But there was always a chance the commercial wouldn’t be released so the family kept it quiet until they saw it on television.
The girls went nuts, he said, as did his social network.
“I heard from a lot of people from different stages in my life,” he said. “It went on for a month or two. … I don’t really like the spotlight, but when it comes to something like that, recognition for what you’ve been doing, and it’s free advertising, too, I’m enjoying it.”
He gets the same satisfaction watching the Eagles’ success – even if that means watching his name slip in the record book.
“It’s pretty amazing the way they play,” he said. “With all that passing, my mouth is just watering. It would have been cool to be in an offense like that, but we had a good passing attack.”
Brooks is now sixth on the career reception list, with three other Tacoma receivers, Eric Kimble, Aaron Boyce and Nicholas Edwards, in the top four. That trio has knocked Brooks to fourth in touchdowns and Kimble and Boyce have bumped him to third in yardage.
Since hanging up his cleats, Brooks has dropped all the way to 13th on the single season reception list. Among those ahead of him is Greg Herd, whose uncle is Brooks’ oldest friend.
“They’re exciting to watch,” Brooks said. “I’m so proud of the team. I still wear my Big Sky championship ring.”
Although Brooks is happy with his life, he encourages all athletes to enjoy the moment.
“It’s different than being involved in a physical activity type of employment,” he said. “I wish I could still be playing football and being paid to do it, but that wasn’t going to happen.
“The experience of being part of a team that wins, I miss that more than anything in the world. It was a lot of fun to be part of that commercial but there’s nothing like being part of a team. All I’d say to anyone who reads this article and is involved in any kind of sport and has taken it to a (higher level), seize the moment. … I can’t imagine what it would be like winning a national championship. I was part of it but being on the field … wow!”
As for a future in television, Brooks laughs.
“You know some commercials have part two and part three,” he said. “I think this one may have run it’s course.”