The juxtaposition between bully and protector couldn’t be better demonstrated than in the life of an offensive lineman. On one down a player may be pushing people around, paving the way for a running back. The next play that same lineman could be holding off a pass rush, keeping his quarterback safe long enough to make a play. Success at the position requires exceptional balance of both being the sword and the shield. There’s also an obvious need to be selfless, putting the team’s success in front of individual glory. Former New Orleans Saints legend Stan Brock has embodied all these qualities throughout life, on and off the field.
Life of a Saint: Stan Brock
Through his early years, Stan Brock was not the All-World tackle we watched play in the NFL on Sundays in the 80’s and 90’s. In fact, the Jesuit, Oregon native really didn’t isolate football as THE sport until after high school. Brock explained, “In high school, I liked basketball more than football. Once I got into college and started playing football, I had some great coaches in Bill Mallory and George Belu. George Belu was my position coach and Bill Mallory was my head coach. They were really the guys that inspired me to want to go on.”
Brock was attending the University of Colorado at this point. Why Colorado? There were several factors that went into the decision. “The easy answer is that both of my brothers went there. Pete is four years older than I am and Willie is three years older than I am. They were both at Colorado.” It’s worth noting that Pete Brock would go on to have a 12 year career in the NFL, all with the New England Patriots. Willie Brock also reached the NFL, playing a year with the Detroit Lions.
Stan Brock continued to explain why the University of Colorado was the right choice by adding, “If you’ve ever been to Boulder and seen that campus, walked around there and if you enjoy the outdoor life, I really couldn’t think of a better place to go. I was very highly recruited. I was recruited by Oklahoma, Nebraska, UCLA, Washington and Colorado. Those were the trips I went on. Quite honestly, there’s no comparison to Boulder, Colorado”, Brock described.
Brock’s Biggest Obstacle
Following an incredible college career, Brock would again turn many heads and have opportunities at the next level. As a 6’6”, 295-pound man, Stan Brock had the size. His play on the field showed he had the skill. With his brothers’ success before him, he also had the pedigree. All of this added up to a lot of pre-draft attention. Despite many of the accolades and the seemingly easy road to the NFL, Brock described the toughest obstacle he faced prior to that point of his life. “Me. I was my biggest obstacle because I don’t know that I ever really believed all the hype. In high school, there were better football players on my team. But, because my oldest brother was a college All-American and my next brother was a small college All-American, I got a lot of press and accolades. I was the only All-American player out of the state of Oregon and I believed there were better players on my team”, Brock mentioned.
Brock then went on to speak about how although he would constantly hear outsiders speak about how good he was and how high he would be drafted, he didn’t know if he believed them. It wasn’t until his senior year in Colorado when Brock was voted by his teammates as a captain and as Offensive Player of the Year, that Brock started to trust all the positive accolades, stating, “Those are the ones I believe. I believe my teammates votes.”
Stan Brock Joins the NFL
Just as Stan Brock got comfortable with his stature amongst his teammates in Colorado, it was time to move on to the NFL. And although Brock was the 12th pick overall in the 1980 NFL draft, he was reluctant to feel overly confident about his standing on his new club, the New Orleans Saints. After all, with such a high draft pick comes expectations. Brock stated, “I end up being the 12th player picked in the first round of the draft in 1980. ‘Are you really sure that I’m worth that pick?’ I’m not sure that I believed I was. I was hoping that wasn’t going to be the high of my career.” But offensive line coach Dick Stanfel wouldn’t allow Brock to be anything but confident. Brock credits Stanfel as being an early, vital influence in his NFL career, both technically and psychologically.
Stan Brock shared a humorous story about how the draft went for him. He jested, “Hell, I was in my apartment with a rotary phone and they weren’t allowed to call you until 8:00 in the morning. At 8:00, my phone rang and it was actually the Buffalo Bills. What they used to do is call and see if you’d be interested in playing for their team. Then they would hold you on the line because there was no call-waiting back then. They would just hold you on the line so that no other teams could call you. Then the Buffalo Bills traded their pick to Seattle. When I went to hang up the phone, as soon as those two buttons made contact, the phone was ringing again, and it was the New Orleans Saints. They told me that they would draft me in the first round.”
Aside from the pressure of living up to being a first-round draft choice, Brock was thrust into the starting lineup immediately. “The New Orleans Saints made me a starter from day one at training camp. In the old days at training camp, when you got there, the rookies were there for two weeks before the veterans got there. When the veterans arrived, they made me a starter. And I didn’t earn the spot. So, you can imagine how these veteran offensive linemen felt who had just lost one of their friends who was a starter the year before. They replaced him with a rookie who hadn’t earned anything. It was the first day of practice. They weren’t very helpful at the beginning”, Brock admitted.
But there would be one teammate that would take Brock under their wing in Archie Manning. Brock offered, “Archie knows that if this guy is a starter, he better make me feel good about it. He took me under his wing and he helped me with a lot of things.” Manning had spent his career behind sub par offensive lines to that point, so a talented Stan Brock was a welcomed addition.
Stan Brock’s Time in the Big Easy
Stan Brock would become part of the nucleus of the first winning season in New Orleans Saints history in 1987. But according to Brock, 1987 is not when the culture shift took place. Brock informed, “Nobody can get more credit than Bum Phillips, especially for his first draft. If you go back and look at his first draft in 1981, it was George Rogers, Rickey Jackson, Jim Wilks, Frank Warren, Hokie Gajan and Hoby Brenner. It’s the guys that were really the core of the New Orleans Saints to get to the success in 1987.” Brock credits Bum Phillips for being a family-oriented influence that wanted players on his team that would ‘go to war’ for each other.
After Bum Phillips was let go, the Saints acquired a different type of coach in Jim Mora. Brock explained some of the differences, stating, “Coach Mora brought in a completely different philosophy. He was a no-nonsense, go to work guy. His style never really bothered me. He brought in Sam Mills, Vaughan Johnson and Pat Swilling. He built up the best defense in the NFL.” Brock would also mention that this new defense was great for a relatively conservative offense. Brock described it by saying, “All we had to do was not turn the ball over and score some points and we knew we had an opportunity to win. We also had Morten Andersen as our kicker. So, from an offensive standpoint, by the time we crossed the 45-yard line, we knew we had three points. We just had to maintain.” Brock also mentioned that these teams would often spend so much energy winning those close games throughout the season that they would have little left in the tank come playoff time. “And Coach Mora would tell you this”, Brock added.
The Highs and Lows in New Orleans
With all of the new-found success in the late 80’s in New Orleans, Stan Brock gave a surprising answer when asked what his favorite moment was. Brock started to paint a picture, divulging “In 1980, we were 0-14 and we won our 15th game in New York against the Jets. That’s back when Buddy Dillaberto was announcing the Saints and doing the news with a bag on his head.” He continued, “There was snow blowing around in there. We weren’t supposed to win but with that win, you would have thought we just won the Super Bowl. We were on that airplane playing lots of music. Everybody was happy. It was a great feeling,” Winning the NFC West in 1991 for the first time in team history was also mentioned in the conversation as an unforgettable moment.
Brock shared many memories with his teammates, coaches, family and friends in New Orleans. After 13 seasons with the Saints, Brock and New Orleans parted ways. “That was heartbreaking. I wanted to play my whole career in New Orleans. I love Louisiana. I love the people there. I love the lifestyle”, Brock shared. You could hear the genuine emotion in his voice as he reflected on leaving New Orleans. He would finish his career playing three years for the San Diego Chargers.
During his time in San Diego, Brock and his Charger teammates reached the Super Bowl XXIX and faced off against a familiar foe and a very familiar face. “More ironic than playing the 49ers was right across from me was Rickey Jackson. That’s who I had to play in the Super Bowl. I was prepared for that. I knew how good Rickey was at the time and I did not want to be embarrassed in the Super Bowl”, Brock shared. The Chargers would lose that contest 49-26 in the iconic Steve Young ‘Monkey off my back’ game. Along with Rickey Jackson, another former Saint, Toi Cook, also helped the 49ers win that championship.
Life After Playing Football
After playing in the NFL for 16 seasons, Stan Brock tried his hand at coaching. Brock spent a total of 10 years coaching, with five of those years in the Arena Football League (Portland Forest Dragons, Los Angeles Avengers) and five years in West Point working with Army. When asked to compare coaching to playing, Brock quickly offered, “There’s nothing better than playing. As a coach, it’s great to put a plan together and go out and execute that plan. But, there’s no substitute being on the field, putting your hand in the dirt and being a part of those 11 guys that fight all the way through it.”
While Brock has no burning desire to coach at this point in his life, he still manages to scratch that itch with his offensive and defensive line football camp, simply called Trench Camp in Portland, OR. He also travels and attends camps around the nation, working with Nike.
Becoming a Saints Hall of Famer
“That was awesome”, exclaimed Brock, but not for the reason you might think. While he appreciates the individual honor, more important to him is the honor of being included with that group of guys. Brock also appreciates any time he has the chance to reunite with his former teammates. “A couple of years ago, they brought back what they called the All-50 team. So, they brought back 50 of us. We got to see a lot of guys. I crossed over a lot of those guys’ careers. Some of those guys, it was the last time I saw them. John Hill passed away a year ago. That was the last time I got to see those guys and so while it’s a great honor, honors have never really played a big role in my life. But, I’m so proud to be associated with that group of guys. We have fun when we get back together”, recalled Brock.
Black and Gold Classic
Stan Brock’s ties with the cadets of West Point went beyond the playing field. In fact, one of Brock’s passions is giving back to that fraternity. Brock explained, “Through my time at West Point, I got to be around these people, these great kids. After their football seasons are over their senior year, they basically go to battle. To watch them grow through that has been amazing. I’ve been able to stay in touch with those guys. I had my right tackle when I was there, named Seth Nieman, went through the whole process. He continued right through and went from First Lieutenant to Lieutenant Colonel all the way through to becoming a Green Beret. The Special Forces, those guys are asked to do some crazy things. He was severely injured in Afghanistan. I went and saw him and I realized, at that point, that I was going to do something for them.”
Stan Brock, along with the help of his daughters, developed the Black and Gold Classic more than a decade ago. The name was derived from the colors used by Colorado, New Orleans and West Point. The goal is to raise money to help Special Forces soldiers (Green Beret, Navy Seals, etc.) like Seth Nieman, as well as their families, cope with the financial hardships that arrive when these heroes are met with unfortunate outcomes in battle. These fund-raising events feature everything from fishing rodeos to sport clay-shooting and include concerts, meals prepared by famous local chefs and more. The Special Operation Warriors Foundation, a foundation run by General Clay Hutmacher, is one of the recipients of the monies raised, with the other being the Green Beret Foundation. The next event is coming up on May 17th & 18th in Grand Isle, Louisiana. For more information or to donate to the cause, go to www.stanbrocksblackandgold.com.
When he’s not involved in charitable events or coaching up the next football phenom, Stan Brock is just a father to four daughters and a grandfather to eight grandsons and four granddaughters. One of those grandsons received national attention when he and his family turned a disability into a calling. Bryson Thompson, son of Brock’s daughter Sarah Thompson and her husband Aristotle, suffers from seizures. He wears a protective foam helmet to avoid any head trauma in the event of a seizure. Brock stated, “Not everyone can afford these helmets. In fact, Sarah and Aristotle, when they had to make the decision to get one of these helmets, it really wasn’t in their budget. As fate would have it, an organization called Jack’s Helping Hand stepped up and bought them the helmet.” The Thompson’s story has been featured on such shows as NFL Total Access and The View.
The good deed didn’t go unnoticed. In fact, it was at that point that Bryson and his older brother Brock began to try and pay that generosity forward. “Brock, who is the oldest, and Bryson started their own foundation called Helmets4Helmets. They started calling around and writing letters and getting NFL players to donate their helmets. They sell them on live auction and then donate that money to the group that goes back and takes care of these special needs kids. I’m very proud of Brock and Bryson for what they’re doing. For a nine-year old and a seven-year old to understand that they need to help people out, I think it speaks a lot to how Aristotle and Sarah have raised their children and how these kids react to it. They’ve all done a great job”, shared a proud Stan Brock. Brock and Bryson Thomson’s foundation has already helped children in several states as well as Canada. It would appear as though the apple didn’t fall far from the tree with regards to taking care of others in need.
For more information about Brock and Bryson’s charity, head to www.helmets4helmets.com.
While the X’s and O’s of the game have remained on the field for Stan Brock, the lessons learned from the game he loves have had much more reach. Brock has demonstrated that he can be the muscle when needed. He has also obviously shown his ability to protect others. And Brock continues to live and teach selflessness. The literal and metaphorical trenches will always be better off with guys like Stan Brock manning them.