Former Houston Oiler Robert Brazile not only was one of the NFL's top linebackers in the 1970s; he was one of the top linebackers in the NFL, period. And the proof was in the latest vote by the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame's senior committee.
It made Brazile one of its two finalists for the Class of 2018.
He had to wait a long time for the call -- 28 years to be precise -- yet he never complained, he never criticized voters and he never gave up hope. So when Hall-of-Fame president and CEO David Baker reached Brazile last month to notify him that he'd been chosen as a finalist, Brazile did what came naturally.
"The feeling I got then ... it was like, Wow!" Brazile said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. "When they told me I was a sixth-round pick in the NFL that was a good feeling. But this feeling? I guess I can describe it to you all like, 'You ever heard or been in love with somebody, and you don't know if they love you back?' You have doubts. Not 'doubts' because that's a cold word. You just say, 'You know you love me, but you ain't showed me in a good while.'
"This is what the NFL is telling me right now: 'Robert, you worked so hard, you loved the game, and we love you back. We haven't forgotten about you. We love you, man.' That's what I feel about it."
Brazile could've complained that the call should've happened earlier. A lot earlier. After all, he was an all-decade linebacker from the 1970s who made the Pro Bowl in seven of his 10 seasons, the All-Pro team six times and was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Yet he never was a Hall-of-Fame finalist. Worse, he wasn't a Hall-of-Fame semifinalist, either, meaning he was never chosen as one of 25 players for consideration in any year.
Potential candidates today complain if they're not first-or-second-ballot choices, with Randy Moss -- who hasn't even been a candidate for election (he will be on the 2018 ballot) -- last week calling the Hall-of-Fame voting process "a political war." Brazile did not and has not, and while his response is in stark contrast to today's players, he stopped short of questioning their motives or behavior.
"That's them," he said. "They have to deal with themselves after this is all over with. I want to be able to face anyone and know that I gave everybody a fair shot and that everybody gave me a fair shot. That's something they've got to deal with ... with their maker.
"When I get up in front on my good Lord, I want to say, 'Good Lord, did Robert do all right while he was down here? Is he ready to come right on through those gates, or do you have a couple of things I need to straighten out before I get there?' (So, as for why players complain), I can't answer that question for nobody but Robert.
"You've got to give respect the game. This is a helluva game that we play, and there are a lot of good ball players. They play football in Mobile (his hometown), they play football in Mississippi, they play football in Texas, they play football everywhere. There are some good players in all these places and that are deserving to be where one day I want to be ... which is the Hall of Fame."
Brazile was part of the some of the best Houston Oilers' teams, clubs that featured coach Bum Phillips, running back Earl Campbell, a suffocating defense and a marvelous linebacker nicknamed "Dr. Doom," a.k.a. Robert Brazile. And while those clubs didn't reach the Super Bowl, they made it twice to conference championship games before falling to Pittsburgh ... and it's those games and the people who were involved that Brazile said he thought about when told of his Hall-of-Fame nomination.
"I thought about all the people that got me to this point," he said. "I started to thinking about Walter and what part he played ... Walter Payton. I say Walter because I talk to him like he's still here sometimes. I think about Bum Phillips ... I think about Bob Hill, my head coach (at Jackson State) who passed away. This is the news I think they would want to hear from me ... that I finally got that pat on the back; that somebody shined my shoes that day and said, 'OK, you can take another step, brother. You're pretty close to the Hall of Fame.'
"It was such a warm feeling for me to have a good thought to just say, 'Do you all understand? I'm looking right at you all up in the sky, and you're laughing and having fun with me, and I'm crying like a baby right now.' "