The question is not whether or not Jackson State great Robert Brazile deserved his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past weekend.
Of course, he does. The question is what took them so long.
Brazile, known for good reason as Dr. Doom, was an elite player, one of the absolute best players at his outside linebacker position during his era. That’s the definition of a Hall of Famer: He was the best at what he did.
And what Brazile did was create havoc for opponents of the Houston Oilers. He was tall, long-limbed, strong and fast. He could blitz off the corner, blowing past blockers, and often did. Or he could drop back into coverage and make life miserable for quarterbacks that way.
He made All-Pro six consecutive years (1976-81). Official sack statistics weren’t kept back then, but Brazile unofficially had 48 in his career. He was credited with 1,281 tackles, second most ever by an Oiler/Titan.
And as if all that weren’t enough, Brazile was amazingly durable. He never missed a game over 10 seasons at one of the sport’s most physically demanding positions. Bum Phillips, his coach, called him “Lawrence Taylor before Lawrence Taylor.”
Howard Cosell suggested Dr. Doom. It stuck.
Brazile’s time at Jackson State takes us back to a different era, when schools from the Southwestern Athletic Conference were still getting at least their share of elite talent. Imagine: Jackson State’s senior class of 1975 produced two of the first six picks in the NFL draft: Walter Payton to the Bears with the fourth pick and Brazile to the Oilers with the sixth. (JSU running back Ricky Young, a nine-year pro who led the league in pass receptions one season, also was picked in that draft.)
Pro days — days when senior players work out for scouts and coaches — were all-day affairs at Jackson State because there were so many prospects to weigh and time and interview.
Consider: When Wilbert Montgomery, who would rush for nearly 7,000 yards and score 57 NFL touchdowns, arrived at Jackson State in 1973, he took one look at all the running backs in line ahead of him and immediately transferred to Abilene Christian, where he scored 76 touchdowns.
Jackson State — and the SWAC — were loaded with talent. The eighth pick out of that same 1975 draft was Gary “Big Hands” Johnson out of Grambling. Five players were taken out of Jackson State, more than Mississippi State, Ole Miss and USM combined.
Those sorts of numbers would change drastically over the next few years as the Deep South’s elite African American football talent migrated from the SWAC to primarily the SEC.
Brazile came to Jackson State from Mobile, where he was not recruited by Alabama or Auburn. But if you look at Alabama’s defenses of recent years, you see Brazile-type athletes — swift, strong stalwarts — ranging from sideline to sideline, making tackles for national championship teams. Indeed, in retrospect, Brazile seems the perfect prototype of Nick Saban’s linebackers these days.
There was a time when those athletes played for Jackson State, Grambling, Alabama State and Alcorn.
Relatively speaking, it wasn’t that long ago.
Robert Brazile turns 65 Wednesday of this week. Surely, it is one of his happiest birthdays.
Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.