‘Dr. Doom’ played 10 seasons for the Houston Oilers
1:20 PMJust over a decade ago, around midsummer, the division of ESPN that oversees the MEAC/SWAC Challenge reached out to a handful of black college greats with an opportunity to be in the 2010 class of MEAC/SWAC Challenge Legends.
The award, established in 2009 as part of the early-season historically black college and university (HBCU) game, was established to honor trailblazing football giants who put in work — with no TV exposure and less-than-adequate equipment, but with a work-twice-as-hard passion for success.
When reached by phone at his home, one of those awardees, Jackson State University great Robert Brazile, responded with the kind of glee and gratitude befitting enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I’m so honored,” Brazile said of the MEAC/SWAC Challenge Legends award, which was also given to Grambling State University icon and former Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams that year. “To even be in the same room as some of the other awardees is the ultimate honor for me.”
For all he’s done — in college, in the National Football League and for HBCUs — Brazile should hardly be so humble.
Recruited as a tight end at Jackson State, Brazile — who had size, speed and agility in an era when all three were rare — moved from offense to defense in his freshman season after three linebackers suffered knee injuries. How serendipitous for a player who’d end up finishing his college career with 33 wins, two Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) titles, All-American honors and a trip to the Senior Bowl.
The NFL’s Houston Oilers selected Brazile with the sixth overall pick in the first round of the draft, two picks after Walter Payton, Brazile’s college roommate who finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in a year when Ohio State running back Archie Griffin won it for the second straight season.
Brazile’s star, not to mention Payton’s, would shine even brighter after he reached the pro ranks. Nicknamed “Dr. Doom,” the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Brazile played 10 seasons, all with the Oilers, and was voted to seven consecutive Pro Bowls (1976-82). He was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1975 and a first-team All-Pro selection in both 1978 and ’79. He was also a catalyst on those Oilers teams that advanced to the AFC Championship Game — teams that lost twice to the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Over his career, he had 147 consecutive starts.
For decades, actually almost 35 years, Brazile has waited for his opportunity to receive his gold jacket and enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That wait ended in 2018, and Brazile’s name sits alongside enshrinees Ray Lewis, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Brian Urlacher and Brian Dawkins.
Surely, if anybody had reason to shout, “ ’Bout damn time” from the mountaintop, it would be Brazile.
“I say it was travesty that he had to wait that long,” said Elvin Bethea, a seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker and the Oilers’ all-time single-season sack leader, who was inducted into the Hall in 2003. “All the people that went before him, not that they weren’t outstanding, but Brazile? He came in and was Rookie of the Year. He set a foundation that he just kept building on. Why it took him so long to get in is a question many should have. . . . It happened late, but it happened.”
Brazile, now 72, is just as giddy to get that call as he is to get any call that shines a light on HBCUs, his family and his career.
“I’m like the Boy Scouts — I’m prepared and ready to go,” Brazile told The Houston Chronicle last week. “My parents are 86, and I’m so happy and grateful they’ll be with me this weekend. They’ve been such a big part of my life, and I’m so blessed they’re able to share this honor with me.”
More icing on the cake for Brazile was the presence of Walter Payton — in the form of Payton’s son, Jarrett, who attended the awards ceremonies as a correspondent for WGN-TV News in Chicago.
Said Payton: “He said that seeing my dad and I hug back in ’93 [when Payton was inducted into the Hall] was one of his proudest moments because he knew my dad was deserving of the honor and one day he knew he would be here in Canton himself.”
Feedback worth waiting for.