ARLINGTON, Texas -- The crowd was roaring, but all Keith Brooking could hear were the words of an Atlanta Falcons coach on the day he left the team.
In other words, yes, this was personal.
"The last thing I was told by one of the Atlanta coaches was, ‘It’s a young man’s game,’ ’’ said Brooking, the Falcons’ longtime defensive leader-turned-Dallas Cowboys linebacker, with a lopsided grin. "I guess that old man can still play.’’
He might not have been the key to the Dallas defense -- he finished with two tackles -- but Brooking was surely one of the more visible players in Sunday’s 37-21 Cowboys victory. The veteran of 11 seasons with the Falcons, who signed with Dallas during the offseason, was all over the field, waving, gesturing, trash-talking and even flapping his arms like a bird. All the Cowboys relished this win, but no one had as much fun as Brooking.
And believe it or not, that reaction was toned down.
"Obviously, I get very emotional, and I didn’t want to spend too much energy too soon on that,’’ he said. "I turn 34 next week, so I’ve got to save a lot of that energy. I was trying my best to stay in control, because I have been in situations where I did get a little bit out of control, and it really spends you for the rest of the game. So I was conscious of that.
"But,'' he added, grinning again, "I did enjoy that fourth quarter. I didn't hold anything back. … I'm an emotional player and I was having fun. I will celebrate tonight.''
While admitting there was a personal element to the game, Brooking was quick to say it took a back seat to a badly needed win for the Cowboys against a quality opponent.
In fact, he said, he was the last player left on the field afterward because he was apologizing to some of the Falcons’ personnel for his on-field antics.
"There are a lot of people in that organization that mean a lot to me and I will always keep in touch with,’’ he said. "Some very good friends. I was talking a little bit of trash to them, so I had to go and apologize for it. Sometimes I do get a little bit out of control.’’
That was understandable given the defense’s performance against his old team. Dallas held Michael Turner to 2.8 yards per rush while sacking usually untouchable Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan four times.
"Atlanta prides themselves on being physical, but they didn’t outphysical us today,’’ he said. "We took it to them. We bloodied their noses, and then we stepped on them and kicked them to the ground. So that’s a good feeling.
"Obviously, it was a big game for me personally. I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t. I don’t know if you’ve watched our games, but I didn’t change much today. I’m the same guy. I let it come naturally and act the way I always have.’’
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Credit: Courtesy Roman United / Jason Getz