One year after publicly and vulnerably acknowledging a debilitating anxiety disorder, Brandon Brooks has never been stronger.
"I know I'm going to feel it on Sunday," he said. "But I know I'll be fine."
They live behind masks, and underneath pads, and we think they're Superman. They make millions, and perform miracles, and we forget that they're real.
"In our game, you're looked at like a modern-day gladiator; nothing is supposed to affect you," Brooks said during an interview Thursday. "You make a lot of money, so you're not a human being. You're not supposed to have emotions."
From the moment he went from Miami (Ohio) to the Houston Texans as a third-round draft pick in 2012, Brooks began feeling those taboo emotions. By his second season, he became a starter, and the heat from the spotlight -- even for a supposedly anonymous offensive lineman -- became stifling.
"All of a sudden you're becoming the guy, everyone counting on me, and I've got to make the play every time," he said. "In this game, the talent gap is so small, to think like that will eat you up."
It began eating him up. He began literally spitting it out. During his three years with Houston, he could never play a full season because of his vomiting bouts. He never missed more than one start, so the world didn't know, but he knew.
"I kept thinking I had a stomach ulcer, but doctors couldn't find anything, and I didn't know what to do," he said.
Brooks didn't seek help because Goliath isn't supposed to seek help. He quietly endured until last season, his first in Philadelphia as a prized free agent scheduled to make $40 million over five years.
Amid the money and stardom expectations, he finally crumbled, missing a late November start against the Green Bay Packers when be became so sick he couldn't get off the training table. "To me, it was a little bit scary, to tell you the truth," center Jason Kelce recalled. "I'd never seen anything like it before."