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Robert Brazile hoping for Hall of Fame, carrying Oilers and Alabama soul

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Robert Brazile dreamed of days like Saturday when he was preparing for quadruple bypass heart surgery 13 years ago.

"Laying on my back, I said I got to be able to get up from here. I got to stay alive, because I'm not in the Hall of Fame yet," Brazile told ESPN. "I got to live better to prepare myself for something that I've always wanted -- to be in the Hall of Fame."

Brazile's nerves might be more shaky sitting in a Minneapolis hotel Saturday, waiting for the knock, than they were on that day in 2005.

For those unfamiliar with Brazile, the late Bum Phillips referred to him as Lawrence Taylor before Lawrence Taylor. He's known by many as "Dr. Doom," the Houston Oilers great who played 10 years in the NFL and revolutionized the outside linebacker position in a 3-4 defense.

The knock on the door from representatives of the Pro Football Hall of Fame would mean everything for Brazile, but he promises it would mean even more for the Oilers and the people from his hometown of Mobile, Alabama, whom he cherishes.

Brazile and former Packers guard Jerry Kramer are this year's seniors candidates nominated by the seniors committee. They will need at least 80 percent "yes" votes from the 48-member Hall of Fame Selection Committee on Saturday in Minneapolis. Longtime Houston Chronicle reporter John McClain, who began covering the Oilers prior to Brazile's third NFL season in 1977, will present Brazile's case to the committee.

"I only played for one team, and they're an extinct animal. When all these guys die out, there will be no more Houston Oilers," Brazile, 64, said. "There will be a Tennessee Titans, but no more Oilers.

"You're talking about a family of guys that had each other's back, man. Bum Phillips put together not only a team, but a family."

If Brazile is selected to join the Hall of Fame Class of 2018, there's a very real chance he could be the last Oiler to be inducted. Brazile would be the fourth Oiler from the late 1970s "Luv Ya Blue" era to make the Hall of Fame, joining Earl Campbell, Curley Culp and Elvin Bethea.

The Seniors Committee, which began in 1972, has brought 57 candidates up for consideration, 44 of whom were elected to the Hall of Fame. Every seniors candidate since 2013 has been elected, including two apiece in 2013, 2014 and 2016.

Brazile is unable to picture what it'll be like if he receives that knock on Saturday, but he imagines he'll think of the late Walter Payton, his former Jackson State teammate whom he credits for bringing scouts to the Deep South to uncover "diamonds in the mud" like himself. He'll also think of Phillips, who taught him two sayings that he still lives by today: "Hold onto that rope, don't let that rope go"; and "Every man get a man, and every good man get two."

The first saying spoke of unity and perseverance, while the second took pride in owning more than a typical man’s responsibility while playing defense or in living life.

Sitting outside his Mobile home, Brazile also thought about his city. He was born and raised in Mobile, then left for a decade and a half to attend school in Jackson, Mississippi, and play professionally in Houston. He returned home to Mobile to become a special-needs middle school teacher after his first wife died in a car wreck.

"This is my home. I want to become a Hall of Famer here," Brazile said. "Y'all don't know how many people in my little neighborhood will show up to Canton if I make the Hall of Fame. I may load some up in the boat, tie the boat up to the Winnebago, fill up the Winnebago and pull them there."

He said he "cried like a baby" when he got the call in August to let him know he would be a finalist. Robert Brazile Sr., 85, was completing chemotherapy to treat cancerous lymph nodes in his neck the day his son got the call. The elder Brazile told his son it was better news than when the doctor told him he had finished his final round of radiation.

"He looked at me in a way that I knew he would beat that cancer to watch me get inducted in Canton," Brazile Jr. said.

Brazile Sr. is still living, waiting for that opportunity.

And as Brazile sat alongside his former Jackson State and Oilers teammate Vernon Perry last week, the two joked about whether Brazile would faint if he got the knock on Saturday.

"I hope he don't," Perry said. "Or I'll have to go do the speech for him. I'm just so excited. And if he gets in, know we all going in there with him."

Brazile explained the significance.

"We got three guys from Jackson State in the Hall -- Jackie Slater, Lem Barney and Walter Payton. That's [second] in the SWAC to Grambling. It touches so many people other than me," Brazile said. "For my college, for my city, we still don't have a Hall of Fame football player from Mobile. This is all the weight on my shoulders."

"This is the reason why since August I haven't been able to sleep because of me being selected as a finalist."

During his playing days, Dr. Doom wouldn't allow opposing coaches to sleep well. He has an unofficial sack total of 48 -- because sacks weren't an official stat until 1982. He was credited with 1,281 tackles, second most in Oilers/Titans history. But his contribution can't simply be defined in stats.

"He was a 6-5, 250-pounder who covered running backs. He could drop, he could tackle, he could get after the quarterback, he could do anything you wanted him to do," McClain said. "And he played special teams. He was an Energizer bunny."

Brazile, the sixth overall pick of the 1975 NFL draft by the Oilers, never missed a game in his 10 seasons. He won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award in 1975, then was selected to the Pro Bowl for seven consecutive seasons from Years 2 through 8. He was named to six consecutive All-Pro teams (first- and second-team) from 1976-81. He is a member of league's 1970s All-Decade Team and is the only linebacker on the team who hasn't been inducted into the Hall.

The Dr. Doom nickname came before he entered the NFL. Then-USC linebacker Richard Wood was talking to sportscaster Howard Cosell during a breakfast prior to the college all-star game. Wood called Brazile over with a nickname idea, Dr. Doom, which he picked up from a Chicago Tribune cartoon character.

Brazile was initially skeptical, but Cosell stepped in with just the analogy to convince him: "Take that Doom, it means 'death on offensive men.' It fits you."

"I said 'OK, I can live by that,'" Brazile said. "People still want me to sign autographs as Dr. Doom."

Brazile retired from the NFL 34 years ago, and in his 29th year of Hall of Fame eligibility he is finally a finalist thanks to the Seniors Committee, which nominates players whose careers have been over for at least 25 years.

"The knock on the door, I can't tell you how I'm going to feel if I get it," Brazile said. "I just know I want to find out. I just want to hear that knock on the door."