Growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, Gary Brackett always had to hustle in life. His childhood began in Camden, NJ before the family moved to Glassboro, NJ when he was five, seeking a better life. And while the sleepy Philadelphia suburb certainly offered much more in terms of opportunity, the streets were still troubled with obstacles such as drugs and gangs.
As he grew older, Gary found a sanctuary in football taking the talent he developed playing alongside his brothers on the streets and transferring it to the field at Glassboro High School. Football often served as an escape from a home life where his father, who suffered from PTSD (Vietnam) and schizophrenia, grappled with life often feeling overwhelming. This resulted in severe corporal punishment on behalf of his father who believed that this treatment reflected the deep love he had for his family.
Shining as a rising varsity star on the football field by the time he was a sophomore, Division-I universities began sending recruiting letters in his junior year. Miraculously Gary had avoided the drugs and temptations of the streets by always relying on his athletic abilities. However, not realizing he had to engage to those recruitment offers, his opportunities all but dried up by the time his senior season had eclipsed.
After a disappointing near miss joining the Syracuse University Orangemen, Gary thought his collegiate prospects had evaporated. However, in the 11th hour, Rutgers came calling with an offer. Gary would be accepted to the University however, he would have to sit a year to prove he could handle the academics and would only have a chance at earning a scholarship in two-years when he finally got to play. Risking their most valued asset, Gary’s parents mortgaged their house so he could attend Rutgers.
Over the course of his tenure at Rutgers, Gary excelled on the field despite being on a team that never won more than 3 games in a season. At one point, it seemed as if Gary was going to have to leave Rutgers as his parents could no longer borrow against their home. Some much-needed prayers were answered when he did receive the scholarship mere days before transferring to a Division III school.
However, Rutgers lack of winning largely kept NFL scouts from considering Gary as a next level player. Thriving on his passion and inner belief, Gary landed himself an agent who insisted that Rutgers hold a “pro-day” for Gary and some fellow teammates. Only a smattering of scouts showed up, most of which didn’t take the tryout seriously, except…for the Colts. At the end of the day, the scout informed Gary, he was on the Colts radar.
On draft day, Gary anxiously waited alongside his family as each round passed. It was sheer agony as player after player, whom Gary had competed against, was selected. Ultimately, the Colts chose other players and the man who had pinned all his hopes that the team led by Peyton Manning would choose him, was left without professional football in his future.
Suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, the Colts did call. Their offer? A whopping $2k signing bonus and a chance to make the squad. For a guy like Gary Brackett, all he needed was that chance. Out hustling pro-bowlers, veterans and draft picks, Gary impressed Coach Dungy and made the team. Finally, Gary was living the dream as an NFL pro.
However, personal tragedy was soon to mar his rookie season in 2003. Having previously lost his best friend Rashaun to murder in 2002, Gary was blindsided when his father died in October. A man with whom he shared a complicated relationship, Gary lost the backbone of the man who always pushed him to greatness…even if it wasn’t by the best methods possible.
After his rookie season, Gary was hell bent on building his mother a dream house from his NFL proceeds. Still far down the proverbial league totem pole, he had made $360k that season. In February of 2004, after purchasing a piece of land and having designs drawn, unspeakable tragedy once again struck. During a hysterectomy, Gary’s mother suffered a massive stroke. The entire family was overcome with emotion as they were forced to say good-bye to the matriarch of their family by removing her from machines that were keeping her alive.
Determined to refocus on football, Gary once again dedicated himself to the Colts at the start of the 2004 season. Earning the respect of Coach Dungy he cemented his starting position with the team. However, while most fans saw the high-wattage smile of number 58 on the field each Sunday, they didn’t know the looming hardship that had befallen his closest brother Greg. Since 2003, Greg had been fighting an aggressive form of leukemia. Gary, being a match, had gone through the painful process of being a bone marrow donor in the hope of saving his brother’s life. However, as 2004 melded to 2005, it was clear that the cancer was just too strong. In February of that year, Greg lost the battle, leaving Gary and the rest of his siblings devastated.
A far cry from the boy who played football in the streets of Camden and Glassboro, Gary had now transitioned to be a man and leader that many looked up to both on the field and off. Through adversity and success, his character was built. Ultimately, football rewarded Gary with the ultimate NFL prize when he, along with his teammates became Super Bowl XLI champions in February of 2007.
Gary Bracket has learned never to “lean on a try.” His inspirational story is one of sheer hard work and hustle that carried him through the darkest days and propelled him to success.