By L.A. Warren
Former Houston Oilers’ Robert Brazile anxiously twiddled his thumbs, played on his phone and watched his nervous wife peer out their hotel room for hours before they finally heard the life-changing knock that would confirm his induction into NFL’s Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Despite the overwhelming anxiety, “it was an unbelievable moment,” Brazile said when Hall of Fame president David Baker appeared at the door to congratulate him on the eve of Super Bowl LII in Minnesota earlier last year. “I’m lucky; I’m blessed.”
The Jackson State University alum noted that out of tens of thousands who play football in parks, local schools, college and the NFL that he’s now part of an elite group. “There are only 318 Hall of Famers, and I’m No. 312.”
However, before the suspense was over in the Hilton hotel, he and his wife found themselves on an emotional roller coaster. Former pro athletes had been told to remain in their rooms until about 3 p.m. for notification of their fate. Stealthily, the Braziles had observed other people getting knocks on their doors and worried that the opportunity had eluded them.
Of course, their fears would prove premature, even though only eight of 18 finalists made the cut. Unfortunately, some former athletes waiting with him had been unsuccessful finalists about six previous times. This was Brazile’s first successful try.
“When you think of all the people who have played football this is the ultimate. You’re at the top. You’re in football heaven.”
Before his selection occurred, Brazile – a JSU Sports Hall of Famer – said, “I was so worried that my mom and dad would not witness me getting into the Hall of Fame or a knock. They both are 85 years old. So, it was such an honor for me to share this with them.”
He points out that his induction celebrates the wide support he’s received over the years.
“It’s about my family and the people who helped me get there – my Jackson State family; my high school family; my church family.” He also offered kudos to coaches “all over the world who played a part in my life, including my super, super fans.”
There are only 318 Hall of Famers, and I’m number 312.
This coveted distinction makes Brazile, who lives in Satsuma, Alabama (north of Mobile), the fourth former JSU athlete to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Others are Lem Barney, Walter Payton and Jackie Slater.
To fans in the Magnolia state, Brazile said, “I offer big hugs and kisses and a lot of thanks for all the support. If I had to live in another spot, it would be Jackson, Mississippi. The people there took me in as a kid, and they helped developed my skills.”
“Between Jackson State and Grambling, there are eight Hall of Famers. If you count the ones from Southern University, Prairie View and Texas Southern, you’ll see that we have more people from HBCUs inducted into the Hall of Fame than a lot of other conferences. So, we must use this privilege in a helpful way for HBCUs and the community.”
Brazile said he would encourage more sponsors to support these vital institutions.
Overall, life has been great for the new inductee. “You appear here; you appear there. Everybody wants you to show up for every Little League team. Everybody wants to be a part of you. When you put on that gold jacket it means that you represent those other 317 guys in the Hall of Fame.”
In September, Brazile attended the 31st annual JSU Sports Hall of Fame Banquet. He was unable to attend his 2003 induction due to coaching obligations, so his father received the honor for him. Brazile said he was determined to be present this year to salute the new honorees who deserved the “A-plus” recognition that JSU bestowed upon them. “Welcome to an e lite group of Tigers,” he told them.
To cap off a tremendous year, Brazile traveled to Nashville, where the Tennessee Titans welcomed him and his family at a home game in October. They presented him with his gold Hall of Fame ring that he’d anxiously “been waiting to see and wear.”
Now, he’s recovering from surgery in November. “If you see me walking faster, you’re probably thinking, ‘Well, he finally got that right hip replaced.’ ”
Even with that, Brazile said he would continue to focus on touching the lives of youth by extolling the values of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “I want to be there for kids who are bullied and need a mentor.”
Today, his message focuses on urging individuals to embrace commitment, integrity, courage, respect and excellence – all qualities that describe him now, he said. And, “I look forward to coming back and working with Jackson on some big projects.”
Since retirement from the sport, however, the best part of his glorious ride to perpetual fame is working to be “just as good as a father as I was an outside linebacker. I want to be a hall of fame daddy,” Brazile said.