With both the NFL season kicking off and the U.S. Open tennis tournament going on this week, the Talk of Fame Network found a way to combine the two.
Along with Hall-of-Fame nominee Robert Brazile and two-time Super Bowl winning linebacker Andy Russell, the TOF also paid a visit with Tennis Hall-of-Famer Rod Laver, who not only was one of the greatest players in tennis history but a San Diego Chargers’ season-ticket holder, too.
Like most Chargers’ fans, Laver is less than pleased to see his team having deserted San Diego for the bright lights of L.A.
“It was terribly disappointing,’’ Laver said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “I had season tickets … and loved everything about it. Most Charger fans are just mad. I don’t know how much I’ll follow them.’’
Neither does anyone else in San Diego.
Brazile knows how Laver feels. Even though the Houston Oilers have been gone for 21 years, “Dr. Doom” still misses them.
“I miss that derrick (on their helmet) dearly,’’ Brazile said. “That was one of the saddest days of my life.’’
One of the happiest came a week ago when Brazile learned he and Jerry Kramer were nominated for the Hall of Fame by its senior committee. Brazile had been eligible for 28 years, yet was not once debated despite seven Pro Bowls, five All-Pro selections and a selection to the 1970s’ all-decade team.
Few players escape the senior pool, where all go after their first 25 years of eligibility is done. Yet Brazile said he never lost faith it might happen. Nevertheless, when he got the call he burst into tears.
“It was emotional,’’ Brazile admitted. “It was like when you love someone, and you’re not sure they love you back. It was like the NFL telling me, ‘Right now, we love you back.’’
Pittsburgh certainly still loves Russell, who last week became one of 27 men chosen for the inaugural class of the Steelers’ new Hall of Honor. He was the defensive captain of the Steel Curtain for the last 10 years of his 12-year career, went to seven Pro Bowls and won two Super Bowls before retiring and became one of the few players to turn the tables on Steelers’ head coach Chuck Noll when Russell told him he was retiring.
“It was time,’’ Russell said. “But I got a call from coach Noll to come see him. He wanted me to play two more years and be captain. I said, ‘No, sir. I’m going to seek my life’s work.’ ’’
That was the line Noll used when releasing a player, and Russell had been told of those words by many a departed teammate. That he got to say them to Noll still amuses him.
“No player ever said that to him,’’ Russell recalled.
He also told TOF hosts Ron Borges, Rick Gosselin and Clark Judge that his father, a corporate executive, didn’t want him to play pro football, believing it was no profession for a man.
“He made me promise I’d never play pro football,’’ Russell said.
But after being a 16thround draft choice of the then-lowly Steelers in 1963, Russell made the team before leaving for two years of military service in Germany. There he both played football and coached on a military team — with the latter an experience he said made him far better prepared to succeed in the NFL upon his return in 1966.
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