Updated: 9:20 p.m.
NEW ORLEANS – Seahawks defensive end Greg Scruggs once played the drum in the marching band at Cincinnati's St. Xavier High School and now he's beating the drum for his old school teammates, not to mention his coach, Steve Specht.
"He's the reason I'm here," Scruggs said in a New Orleans Convention Center ballroom glittering with TV lights and A-list names. "I've been blessed athletically, but without him bringing people through to see me, contacting people … he made my highlight film and I don't know how he did it."
That's pretty much what Scruggs wrote in the small box on the sheet passed out by NFL teams looking for nominations for the Don Shula national high school coach of the year. On Friday before the Super Bowl, sandwiched between the Brothers Harbaugh and the finalists for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, Specht shook hands with Shula with a beaming Scruggs looking on.
As the national Shula Award winner, Specht received $25,000 with $15,000 earmarked to the St. Xavier football program. The selection panel, among which Shula, Tony Dungy, John Madden and Condi Rice chose from 45 nominees. Specht didn't know Scruggs was in the house until he was announced and bounded on stage to say what he wrote. This after he fibbed to Specht that he couldn't make it.
"The fact he cared enough to get out here," said Specht, shaking his head after the ceremony. "I'm numb. I'm the kind of guy that looks around and says, 'Why am I here?' "
That’s just the kind of guy the 6-4, 225-pound Scruggs is. Coming off his rookie year when Seattle took him in the seventh round out of Louisville, Scruggs didn't play football until his senior year after Specht recruited him from the band with the promise he'd get him a college scholarship.
"Everything there was heartfelt; it was genuine," Scruggs said of his nomination. "If he won, he won. If he didn't, at least someone knew how I felt about my coach. That was exciting for me."
Scruggs, 22, ran into a bunch of coaches that cared. He knew Specht before he became his player because he grew up across the street from St. X in the Boys Hope facility for disadvantaged youth, where he could see Specht's car parked late at all hours during football season and he would come into the office and just talk.
Growing up in Boys Hope also brought Scruggs in contact with Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, whose community fund has been a big sponsor for both Cincinnati's Boys and Girls Hope. Scruggs remembers meeting Lewis for the first time when he was 13. A big Bengals fan, Scruggs will never forget the handwritten note of congratulations Lewis sent him upon his graduation from Louisville and selection by Seattle.
"He said how proud he was of me. The great thing about it is he never really talked to me about football," Scruggs said. "He just talked to me about me staying in school, making sure I graduated and if everything fell into place, it would."
How big of a Bengals fan? Scruggs said it was a thrill for him to play against the Raiders in the preseason, since Carson Palmer was the Bengals quarterback when he first got into football.
"They're still my favorite team except when we play them," Scruggs said. "I was praying to the God Lord Jesus that I would get drafted to the Bengals, but I knew it wouldn't happen with the D-line they have. They're all my type of D-linemen (tall and fast.) They've got Carlos (Dunlap), Mike (Johnson). Even the bigger guys … Domata (Peko) can move. Just go down the line. Geno (Atkins). It keeps going."
This is already quite a week for Specht. But when he goes to the NFL Awards Saturday night, he may see St. X's own Luke Kuechly and Scruggs's Seattle teammate win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Throw into the mix Cowboys linebacker and St. X product Alex Albright and the Bombers are on the map.
"It's going to be great for us to have the representation," Scruggs said. "The big thing that's bothered us is not getting a lot of recognition as far as Cincinnati athletes coming out of there, so I think it says a lot. With Luke doing what he's doing, you trust me by next year I'll be doing the same thing and Alex is doing well. I don't doubt that Alex will be a household name at some point in time just for his consistency and being a good, constant contributor. I think it speaks volumes for our high school and speaks volumes for this man."
This man, Specht, now puts the Shula Award next to the Paul Brown Award he won several years ago as the most outstanding high school coach in the Cincinnati region given by the Bengals and club president Mike Brown.
“The Bengals offer Steve our most enthusiastic congratulations on this national honor,” Brown said in a statement Friday. “It’s a joy for us to hear. Steve is a leader among the exceptionally strong community of high school coaches we have in our area, and his selection is a tribute to all of them. The Bengals are fortunate to be in a community where the football foundation is so strong, and of course we are proud to have one of our Paul Brown Award winners achieve this distinction.”
As quickly as Scruggs arrived Thursday night under the radar, he's leaving just as fast. He's headed back to Cincinnati for the Boys Hope gala Saturday night, a must for the guy that considers himself "the poster child" for the group.
"I take pride in that. Not in an arrogant way, but in a humble way," Scruggs said. "I'm proud of where I came from."
And Specht won't mind Scruggs will be gone. He knows that's just the kind of guy Scruggs is.
BROOKS ON BRINK: This is not the 22-year-old Ahmad Brooks the Bengals took out of Virginia in the third round of the 2006 supplemental draft and he's not the one they released on Cutdown Day 2008.
He'll be 29 in a month, his father has been gone more than two years, he's started every game of a Super Bowl season for the 49ers at outside linebacker, and he's working on the first year of a six-year, $44.5 million deal with $17.5 million guaranteed. It's a deal that 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said last week was key to keeping his defense together and he said it in the wake of Brooks knocking down a third-down pass late in San Francisco's 28-24 win in the NFC title game.
And this week, Brooks made a pretty mature call when he said both sides probably contributed to his short stay in Cincinnati. He'll admit maturity isn't what he had coming out.
"(The 49ers) gave me more of an opportunity and were willing to work with me a little bit more, I think, and I think I was more eager to work a little more, too," Brooks said. "There's always two sides to the story. It goes hand in hand and I just need to be more professional and learn."
But he also thinks the Bengals gave up on him too early after he started the 2007 season at middle linebacker. It will be recalled that Brooks was a prominent player in Cincinnati's Monday Night win in the opener over the Ravens with six tackles and a sack and strip of quarterback Steve McNair.
But he hurt his groin the next week in Cleveland and ended up playing one more final game for the Bengals. If head coach Marvin Lewis wasn't enamored with the physically gifted but detailed-challenged Brooks, then Brooks had a hard time understanding what went wrong.
"I'm not going to say I didn't have a fair chance because I really don't know the situation why I left Cincinnati in the first place," he said. "The type of player I've always been, I never felt so heartbroken in my life getting cut.
"I felt like as time went on I would have grown into the position or whatever position they wanted me to play. I would have had a great year, but I got injured my second year. I never got a second chance. I don't even know if I went up there to say 'thank you.' I just left and drove home. There was nothing to say to anybody. There are no hard feelings."
Brooks said if he saw Lewis now he would say '"hello," but he's clearly moved on. He admits the sudden death of his father also has had an impact. He's still finding out what kind of impact Perry Brooks, a nine-year NFL linebacker, had in his community. He offered one of the more poignant stories of Super Bowl week when he talked about bringing the Super Bowl ring his father won with the Redskins into a first grade show and tell.
"It changes your life, you grow up a little bit more," Brooks said. "I'm living life every day trying to be a great father, a great teammate, a great friend.
"He was very well respected where we lived in Virginia. I'm finding out he helped out this guy and that guy, helping them get into school and things I didn't even know."
A win Sunday and Ahmad and Perry Brooks join Bob and Brian Griese as father and son Super Bowl winners.
DOUBLE TAKE: Remember Ohio State safety Donte Whitner? For about an hour on the first day of training camp following the 2011 lockout, he was a Bengal. The club thought it had a deal and Whitner tweeted that, indeed, he was coming to Cincinnati. The idea was the Bengals secondary had just been solidified with the addition of two solid veterans and first-round Buckeyes in Whitner and cornerback
But an hour later Whitner tweeted off to San Francisco. Two playoff berths later, Whitner said this week it was simply business.
"The Bengals were the only team to call me at that point," Whitner said. "My agent was talking to San Francisco and Cincinnati. I guess he was using leverage … I still knew I could possibly go to the 49ers."
Whitner agrees with defensive lineman Justin Smith that the win over the Bengals in the third game of that season is one of the key games in the rise of the 49ers.
"Cincinnati was playing well at the time. Cincinnati was always good whenever (Whitner) played them. They play hard, their defense is extremely good, they always have a strong running back there and now they have one of the top tandems in