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The Life

October 24, 2002
Friendly Fire
ESPN The Magazine

They are second-cousin quarterbacks who grew up blocks from each other in Newport News, Va. Yet before Atlanta's 37-35 last-second, Week 8 win over New Orleans, the Falcons' Michael Vick and the Saints' Aaron Brooks had never played each other on a football field. In 1998, Vick was in his redshirt year at Virginia Tech and watched from the sideline as Brooks, a senior, led Virginia from a 22-point halftime deficit to the best comeback in school history. On the game-winning drive, after a wild spinorama sideline scramble (this family's trademark), Brooks bumped into his cuz near Tech's bench and they exchanged a high five.

Aaron Brooks
Brooks has piloted the Saints to the top of the NFC.

"What are you doing?" Vick's teammates yelled at him. "Back off," Vick screamed back. "This ain't football. This is family."

Now it can be both, thanks to a pair of long-term contracts with fat bonuses (Vick got $11M; Brooks a mere five mil) and a bit of serendipity. In the new NFC South, Brooks, 26, and Vick, 22, will battle twice a year for many years to come. (The teams met twice in 2001, but Vick was still holding a clipboard.) Round 1 went to Vick. Barely. And with 516 total yards and 4 TDs combined, both did the fam proud. Round 2 is Nov. 17, 500 miles north in Atlanta. Once again it will be two cocky, cannon-armed QBs who run sub 4.4 40s locked in a duel that will make Bledsoe-Brady look like they're playing in sand.

Normally Brooks and Vick talk twice a week by phone, catching up on family gossip and passing along scouting tips about defenses. But now that the rivalry is in full swing, the two QBs will likely cut back the chitchat.

That's where we come in.

Aaron Brooks
Vick has been impressive in his first full season as a starter.

Vick: "These are going to be some of the best games of the year because we're going to bring out the best in each other. He may win the first two or we may win the first two but the great thing is the way this is set up, there's always the next game or the next year, always more."

Brooks: "We're young QBs who can improvise -- POW and we're gone -- but the biggest difference is my experience. He still has to go through growing pains. Even if it takes losing, he has to experience that to get better. The other difference is the management and coaches here have put talented people around me. When he gets that, wow, he'll be unstoppable."

Vick: "In my mind Aaron is playing the best football. He is very close to being a complete quarterback. I study him on film. I have patterned myself after him since high school. He is so poised back there and he reads defenses so well. I need a lot of work in the passing game. I'm still learning."

Brooks: "And he's gonna be wonderful. I have tapes of him in college, cutting back, making plays, destroying people. He's starting to do that again."

Vick: "I want to be known as the guy who can do it all. We're a new breed of quarterback and I want to be the best of that new breed."

Brooks: "All he has to do is stay healthy and continue to listen to me and not let other people get in his ear. But that's a young guy for you. See, I'm older ... and taller."

Vick: "We joke about everything. Our hair, what we're wearing, what we did at the club. Aaron is a bit more outspoken. I'm a little more quiet."

Brooks (in a perfectly tailored olive suit with matching tie and pocket hankie, and Italian loafers): "I got a bit more style than him. He's too young to know about style."

Vick (retro white Nikes, baggy 76ers shorts and an Urban Golf T-shirt): "He's got big old pointy ears, though."

Brooks: "He might pop in Tupac while I'm listening to Jaheim. He's always gonna buy that new car and I'm always gonna look for a used one."

Vick: "We took different paths to the NFL too. Aaron stayed in college four years and his was a rocky road. Fourth round pick, fighting for every snap, making every pass count. I think that made him work harder. And the attention I got pushed him a little. But I know he won't admit that."

Brooks: "Right now I have all that I want. I'm starting. I'm having success. We're playing well. And I signed my contract."

Vick: "On the other hand there's me (taken 1st). I'm in college for two seasons and I come right into the league. Big bonus, didn't have to play my first year. And I've got a bobblehead already. He doesn't. It was a breeze ya know? But I'm still the one with a ways to go."

Brooks: "It's good that he acknowledges that fact. He's a better athlete. But as far as being a pure quarterback, I'm better."

Vick: "This is what's gonna be so much fun, the back and forth. We're gonna be dealing with this and having fun with it for a long time. And then, when we're retired and, hopefully, both in the Hall of Fame and living near each other again back in Virginia, we'll get to talk about these games."

Brooks: "No bets. But bragging rights mean an awful lot."

This story will appear in the upcoming issue of ESPN The Magazine, alongside a feature on the smoldering AFC East rivalry between Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe.

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