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Finally A Hall Of Famer, Robert Brazile Opens Up About Journey

Read Sport logo Read Sport 17/07/2018 Alan Cole
NFL Class of 2013 Enshrinement Ceremony © Jason Miller/Getty Images Sport NFL Class of 2013 Enshrinement Ceremony

“I didn’t like that curveball”

It sounds pretty straightforward to say one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history struggled with baseball as a kid, but it forced him to drastically shift his focus as a young athlete.

“I grew up in a baseball city, in a place with Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Billy Williams, all those guys said Robert Brazile, who will be just the 312th player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next month.

It is true that baseball was king when Robert Brazile was growing up. Football was behind by quite a distance, and the NFL wasn’t remotely close to the juggernaut it is today. The fact that Brazile grew up in Mobile, Alabama, near where those three future MLB Hall of Famers he mentioned did, only heightened the baseball craze around him.

But once it became clear that Brazile couldn’t keep up with the baseball players around him, always struggling to hit a curveball as he said, he started to take his athleticism in another direction.

“As an athlete, everyone is blessed with some kind of talent. There are so many different varieties of talent out here in the world. For me it was football.”

Once he made the decision to commit to football, it was about learning life lessons on the route to success. Football can be a great teaching tool for young people navigating the difficulties of life. Brazile talked about some of the main keys took in life as a developing football player trying to reach the pinnacle.

“For me it was just working hard, being devoted to what’s right and not what’s wrong first of all, and keeping a focus on doing what I wanted to do for the rest of my life”

Brazile carried the mentality of doing what he loved for his entire career, and well after it. He was the sixth overall draft back by the Houston Oilers out of Jackson State in 1975, and hit the ground running by winning defensive rookie of the year. He spent a decade in Houston, reaching seven Pro Bowls and helping the Oilers reach back-to-back AFC Championship Games in 1978 and 1979, as well as earning some support back in the process.

“When I first got to Houston, there was only one team in Houston, the Dallas Cowboys. We had lost all our fans, and we as a group of Oilers had to find a way to get those fans back. Coach said all we had to do is win, and we won ballgames.”

But he made more of an impact after hanging up his helmet in 1984 than he ever did wearing it. Brazile returned home to Mobile, where he coached at a minor league level of football before becoming a middle school teacher for kids who need special education. Robert believes the biggest challenge of his life came in the classroom.

“It was more difficult being a teacher. I was a middle school special ed. teacher, and it was a challenge every day to find something to build the trust, love and care for the kids.”

Trust is something Brazile has spent every day of his life after football trying to build with people, and said he believed that one of the keys to the winning Oilers of the 70s was the trust players had in head coach Bum Phillips, and the faith he had in his players. Brazile knows how important trust is in the relationship between a teacher and a student, especially a student who has special needs. Looking at the current state of the NFL and the relationships that exist between head coaches and rookies who enter the league, Brazile believes a similar philosophy of trust and honesty can be used to help players adapt to life at the next level.

“It’s something you build like you’re a father with your own kid. You build this trust; you build this love, appreciation, and talent at the same time. My thoughts are first get to know these people. If you put the right pieces in the right places, it will form a pretty picture. Most teachers do the same thing every day, and they believe what they tell the kids is the truth. And it makes it so easy for kids to learn, and it’s the same thing in football”

Robert Brazile has spent years going out of his way to help kids who really needed it. He spent even longer waiting for his induction into Canton. Year in, year out, he was passed over. All of the patience has paid off. 34 years after playing his final snap for the Oilers, the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Senior Committee gave him the call to tell him he would be enshrined in Canton.

The love for kids goes back to some of the core values of his childhood in Mobile. As a football kid trapped in place without a lot of it, he internalized the belief that everyone has their own talents. He learned about hard work, and doing the right thing. Trusting other people, and working to get others to trust him. The virtue of patience, something he needed in the classroom, and out of it as he sat on the outside looking in of the Hall of Fame.

Robert Brazile was raised in the middle of baseball obsession. His inability to hit curveballs helped push him towards football.

But in life, he was thrown a lot of curveballs in coaching, teaching, and mentoring.

And where it really counted, he hit home run after home run.

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