(Editor’s note: Former Houston linebacker Robert Brazile is one of two senior nominees for the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2018. In tribute to Brazile, we reprint Clark Judge’s January, 2015, State Your Case, arguing for Brazile’s inclusion in the Hall.)
Historians will tell you the most feared outside linebacker was Hall-of-Famer Lawrence Taylor. But before there was L.T., there was Robert Brazile, and if you didn’t see him or haven’t heard of him don’t worry. All you need to know is what people called him.
The nickname suited him. Brazile was a human wrecking ball, a tackling machine who didn’t wrap up ballcarriers as much as punish them and a guy who rarely missed when the kill shot was there. In 10 seasons with the Oilers he produced 1,281 tackles, a number that still stands as the second-most in franchise history.
But that’s not all. Brazile was the complete player, playing n 147 straight games, and so effective with his pass rushes that opponents had to change their blocking schemes to keep Brazile and Hall-of-Fame teammate Elvin Bethea off their quarterbacks.
Granted, he’s credited with only 11 career sacks, while the unofficial figure is 48. Either way, it wasn’t much, and he never led the Oilers in that department. But he played most of his career before sacks were recognized as an official statistic in 1982 – or shortly after the arrival of Lawrence Taylor.
Taylor, it seemed, changed everything. But former coach Bum Phillips said it was Brazile – not Taylor — who made the 3-4 popular for sending an outside linebacker rushing the quarterback.
That’s a matter of opinion. What’s not are the accolades Robert Brazile accumulated during his career. He was the 1975 Defensive Rookie of the Year. The following year he was named to the first of seven consecutive Pro Bowls. He was chosen to five straight All-Pro teams, and he and Bethea were the cornerstones of a Houston defense that in 1978 and ’79 led the Oilers to consecutive AFC championship games.
Brazile was what former teammate Willie Alexander called “a specimen” – someone who was big, fast and could play sideline to sideline. In short, he was one of the faces of a changing NFL and spearheaded the movement away from 4-3 defenses to the 3-4. When Brazile joined the Oilers only two teams – Houston and New England – played the 3-4; when he left after the 1984 season only seven did not.
“Wherever the ball was, he was going to find it,” said Alexander, “(and) when he got there, there was going to be hell to pay.”
Brazile’s play didn’t go unnoticed. He was named to the 1970’s all-decade team, along with Ted Hendricks, Jack Ham and Bobby Bell. Those three are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Robert Brazile is not, and don’t ask me why.
Maybe it was the shortage of sacks. Maybe it was no Super Bowl appearances. Or maybe it was because he stuck around only 10 years, retiring after his wife was killed in a car accident. All I know is that if you’re talking about players who made an impact on the game … if you’re talking about players who excelled at their jobs … if you’re talking about players who deserve to be discussed by the Pro Football Hall of Fame … Robert Brazile’s name is right up there.
I don’t know, maybe time forgot him. But the Hall’s board of selectors shouldn’t.