Whatever happened to … Greg Brezina

Perhaps no one knows Tommy Nobis better than Greg Brezina.

For nine seasons, the two stood side by side and put a hurting on NFL running backs.

And while the Falcons struggled for wins, Nobis was perhaps the league’s best middle linebacker and Brezina saw almost every tackle.

“Tommy not being in the Hall of Fame is a tragedy,’’ Brezina said. “I played against Dick Butkus, and Tommy was a better linebacker. They were two different types of athletes, but Tommy had everything. I wrote a couple of letters to the Hall of Fame encouraging them to put him in, begging them to put him in. He is one of the greatest middle linebackers ever.’’

Brezina wasn’t too bad, either.

He played high school football in Louise, Texas, a small school where he was the quarterback and a linebacker.

His father died when he was 7 and his mother was left with eight children under the age of 8.

The Brezinas were a football family and five brothers and a nephew played for the University of Houston, an NCAA record for brothers.

A statue sits outside the school’s stadium recognizing the accomplishment.

When the 1968 NFL Draft came, Brezina thought he was going to be drafted by Cleveland in the second round or Dallas in the fourth. But he didn’t go until the 11th round (275th overall) to Atlanta, the year the Falcons also took defensive end and future Hall of Famer Claude Humphrey with their first pick (third overall).

Brezina ended up holding out for a few weeks before reporting to the team’s training camp at East Tennessee State in Johnson City, Tenn. He was with the third team, but it wasn’t long before he was one of the starting linebackers, working on the right side of Nobis.

No. 50 spent 11 seasons with the Falcons, playing in 151 games, and was part of the “Grits Blitz’’ defense that set the NFL record for a 14-game schedule by allowing only 129 points in 1977.

His most memorable game came in 1973, when on “Monday Night Football,” they defeated Fran Tarkenton and a Minnesota team that was 9-0.

Brezina made the Pro Bowl in 1969, had 12 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries, played on the Falcons’ first playoff team in 1978 and retired after the next season.

He started Christian Families Today, a counseling and training ministry.

Where he lives: Brezina, 70, has been married to Connie for 47 years. They live in Newnan and have four sons and 18 grandchildren.

What he does: For almost 40 years, Brezina has been running his ministry and more recently, running after his grandchildren.

On playing at Houston: "When I got there, they had signed 11 quarterbacks and I just moved to linebacker. I will never forget the (1967) game against Michigan State when we went up there and they were No. 1 in the country and we were No. 11. There had to be 108,000 people in that stadium. We beat them 36-6.''

On his five brothers and nephew playing for the Cougars: "Let's see, there was Bob, Gus, Bernie, Steve and Mark. Interestingly, my brother was the captain for the first team (1962) Bill Yeoman was the coach for, and his son and my nephew, was his captain for his last season (1986). The monument they have is really in honor of my mother. She raised eight of us and had this never-quit attitude. Tom Herman is now at Texas, but he started the tradition (at Houston) of the players touching that statue (a Cougar) and rubbing its head before they go on the field.''

On his first camp with the Falcons: "I came in late because I held out and wanted more money. I finally worked my way up to the first team and ran on the field and the guy I was replacing wouldn't get out of the huddle. So I threw him out of the huddle. We got in a fight. It got in the papers, and after practice, they lined us up and we ran the 40. I won, and the next day, he was gone.''

On playing for Norm Van Brocklin: "He was one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and tenacious as far as being a winner. But he had some difficulties with communicating with some of the players. I was one of his guys … you had problems with him if you didn't give 100 percent.''

On the Monday Night win over the Vikings: "I have never heard a crowd that loud. I remember at the end, on third down, I broke up the pass. Then on fourth down, the cornerback behind me broke the pass up. Then some guys picked up Van Brocklin and carried him to midfield and dropped him in the mud. It was pretty funny.''

On retiring: "Bill Jobko was my last linebackers coach and I asked him when do you know when to hang it up, and he just said you will know. I then asked Nobis and he said your legs will tell you. Then there was one game my final season when I was going back into coverage and I stumbled. I came off the field and they asked me if I was OK and said I was, but I knew it was time.''