Brandon Doll rummaged through his late grandfather's garage back in 2011, looking for photos from Don Doll's six NFL seasons and 34 more coaching at the college and professional level.
He found something else all together.
Reflective metal brought attention to an old trophy collecting dust on a shelf. Brandon Doll took a closer look, and was shocked to see such an important artifact tucked from view. It honored Don Doll, 1953 Pro Bowl MVP. Brandon knew his grandfather was a four-time Pro Bowler, with an MVP to his credit. He knew Don Doll finished with 41 interceptions, an NFL record when he retired after the 1954 season. He knew Don Doll was an NFL champion with the Detroit Lions.
Grandpa's highlights were committed to memory. The finer points of a grand career were not passed down. Don Doll, it turns out, was not a self-promoter. He did not bask in the glory days, and his San Juan Capistrano home didn't honor an outstanding athletic past. Those walls were adorned with family photos and grandkids accomplishments, with nothing to suggest Don Doll ranked among his generation's best defensive backs.
His football playing life wasn't forgotten. It was like that old Pro Bowl MVP trophy, tucked away and covered in dust.
Brandon Doll has given it new shine. The Raiders vice president took a deep dive into his grandfather's career, brought his achievements to light and has made a compelling case that Don Doll belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
People are listening. Don Doll is on the preliminary list of Senior's Committee nominees this year, after being discussed among the final 15 candidates in 2016. Don Doll should still be considered a long shot for induction, but his career is clearly worthy of discussion for his sport's highest honor.
"I'm a black-and-white, pragmatic person, and I wouldn't be pursuing this or exhausting resources if I didn't see potential in the situation," Brandon Doll said. "He's my grandfather. He's my hero. Let's put that aside. If he wasn't good enough or I didn't think there was a case to be made, I wouldn't be trying to make it."
Brandon Doll first made his case to an audience of one. He needed an objective opinion with experience in these matters, and found one in his boss. Doll created a power point presentation for Raiders president and CEO Marc Badain in Feb. 2016, highlighting Don Doll's achievements while comparing them to his contemporaries and other Hall of Fame inductees.
Badain runs an organization stepped in tradition, one that honors its past as well as any. He knows what it takes to get someone into the Hall of Fame, and felt Don Doll's case was worth pursuing.
"When presented in such a strong fashion," Badain said, "the case became compelling."
It certainly is. Doll averaged .68 takeaways per game, a higher average than other prominent Hall of Fame defensive backs. He had an NFL record three seasons with double-digit interception totals, was a first-team All-Pro as a rookie, made the Pro Bowl four times in his six seasons (1949-54) – short NFL careers were not uncommon back then -- and led the league in career interceptions when he retired for a steadier job in coaching.
Making Don Doll's case has proven far more meaningful than sifting through old photos in the garage. Brandon gets to talk about a grandfather who was his idol, friend and often his coach, and learn more about a man who truly lived.
Don Doll went to Sacramento's Grant Union High School and starred at USC, but his Trojans tenure was interrupted by a two-year stint fighting in World War II. He was honorably discharged once the war ended and finished school before embarking on an accomplished NFL career. Don Doll spent 34 years in coaching at the college and professional level, including a year with the 49ers in 1977.
"My grandfather passed away in 2010, but I feel like I'm getting to know my grandfather again through this research," Brandon Doll said. "I'm uncovering a whole separate side of him that I didn't really know about, and then I'm getting to call my grandmother and talk about it.
"That gets her going on stories, and fondly reconnecting with him. She's had a tough time with him being gone, and it's our way of reconnecting with him despite him being gone a few years."
Brandon Doll may feel that way in private, but he strips emotion out of his pitch. He uses stats and comparative analytics and outside opinions to narrate a career.
Don Doll's case didn't resonate until Brandon Doll began pitching it to Hall of Fame electors in 2016. Doll is a finance guy hired full time by the Raiders in 2014, focusing on strategic projects and business development for the Silver and Black. He is an excellent marketer, but still needed an assist. Badain pointed him toward to the right ears. That was key. Another family member had tried to send letters promoting Don Doll years before. Brandon's campaign found traction.
Brandon Doll found some support last year, with little wins generating some buzz. He got Brett Favre to tweet about Don Doll's Hall-of-Fame worthiness. He built a Don Doll website, and promoted him on social media. He gathered quotes and a testimonial from Don's contemporaries. He worked a grassroots campaign, and garnered some strong support at the NFL Scouting Combine among influential electors.
Doll is on a preliminary list for next year's class, which was sent out in mid-July and will be whittled to 15 by a mail-in vote. That group will be discussed by the Senior's Committee on Aug. 22 in Canton, Ohio, when finalists are nominated for election into the Hall of Fame.
The 2017 class will be enshrined this weekend – Seattle defensive back Kenny Easley was the senior nominee – and Brandon Doll certainly hopes to attend a future ceremony celebrating his grandfather's career. There's a backlog of quality candidates, meaning Don Doll's election will be difficult.
His grandson understands that.
"Just being able to socialize his career and have him discussed was a huge win," Brandon Doll said. "If it never goes any further than that – I'm not the type of person to back down or back off – that was a big deal. He's one of the best players nobody's ever heard of."