I don't stray away from politics on this blog too often, but former Oakland Raider quarterback Ken Stabler passed away yesterday. I grew up a Raider fan, and Stabler was my favorite player as a kid.
I don't care for autographs, and have no desire to meet famous people. Still, I have a Ken Stabler autographed football, and have it prominently displayed in my office (along with my JFK photo). Almost four years ago I created a post that explained why Ken Stabler should be in the NFL Hall of Fame. Because of his passing I'm re-posting it again below.
Let's start with this. Ken Stabler is considered one of the top 10 clutch quarterbacks in NFL history (#6) and has the stats to match other hall of famers, like Joe Namath and Bobby Layne. Take a look at the Namath-Stabler-Layne comparison ...
JOE NAMATH KEN STABLER BOBBY LAYNE
Years Played: 13 (1965-77) 15 (1970-84) 15 (1948-62)
Wins-Losses: 132-64 (.673) 158-103 (.605) 139-83 (.626)
Touchdowns: 173 194 196
Interceptions: 220 222 243
Completion %: 50.1% 59.8% 49%
Yards: 27,663 27,983 26,768
QB Rating: 65.5 75.3 63.4
Pro Bowls: 1 4 5
Championships: 1 1 3
NFL MVPs: 2 (AFL MVP) 1 N/A
All Decade Team: N/A Yes (1970s) Yes (1950s)
But wait, there's more.
Not only did Ken Stabler lead the NFL in passing touchdowns in 1974 and 1976, but he's one of the top ranked quarterbacks in terms of winning percentages.
But it isn't just Ken Stabler's personal stats, and how they stack up against other Hall of Famers who were his contempories. It's who Stabler played and won against.
THE GREAT GAMES & GREAT TEAMS
During one six-year period, Ken Stabler and the Raiders played the Pittsburgh Steelers in three AFC Championship Games, with either the Raiders or the Steelers playing in the title game the other three years. The Steelers won three Super Bowls, the Raiders won one. During this period the Raiders and Steelers played ten times, with each team winning five games.
The Oakland-Pittsburgh rivalry featured 14 Hall of Fame players (seven on each team [8 now with Ray Guy]), a Hall of Fame coach, and two Hall of Fame owners. Stabler was not only in the middle of all of this, but he helped make the magic of the games happen by making everyone who played kick it up a notch. But the Raiders under Stabler didn't just win a few games. During this stretch the Raiders had the best winning percentage in the NFL (.798), with the Miami Dolphins (.750) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (.744) falling right behind the Raiders.
It wasn't just the personal statistics and team winning percentage that tells us Stabler should be in the Hall of Fame. Perhaps Stabler's greatest claim to fame were the number of NFL "greatest games" and "greatest teams" Stabler played and won.
While Raider fans suffered through the "Immaculate Reception" game (which I watched with great frustration), people forget that it was Stabler who ripped off a 30 yard TD run that set up the last minute heroics of Franco Harris.
Also, under Stabler the Raiders ended the Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins hopes for a second undefeated season by beating them in Oakland early in 1973, and then ended their 31-game home winning streak in 1975 by beating the Dolphins in Miami. Keep in mind these Dolphin teams not only won two Super Bowls in row, but finished the only undefeated championship season in NFL history.
Then there was what NBC announcer Curt Gowdy called the greatest game he ever watched, the "Sea of Hands" playoff game against Miami (I still can't believe Clarence Davis caught the ball).
Stabler also played in what was then the third longest game in NFL history, against the Baltimore Colts, in what is now fondly referred to as the "Ghost to the Post" game. Then we had the "Holy Roller" against San Diego, which every Charger fan remembers with great passion.
Finally, there's the issue of why Ken Stabler is not in the NFL Hall of Fame.
THE LIFESTYLE & THE MISFITS
While one of the reasons suggested is that he had mediocre years after he left the Raiders one only has to check the last 3-4 years of Bobby Layne and Joe Namath. Nothing to write home about. I could be wrong, but what seems to be at stake is how some fans and voters look at Ken Stabler's off-field lifestyle when he played. This is precisely why it's instructive to compare Ken Stabler with Joe Namath and Bobby Layne.
Even if Stabler may have studied the playbook by the light of the jukebox from time to time, neither Namath nor Layne were famous for going to bed at curfew before games. Both were famous night crawlers. Perhaps just as important is the fact that Ken Stabler played with a team of misfits that both fed - and fed off of - Stabler's habits. It's hard to see the Raiders winning the way they did with, say, a Roger Staubach at quarterback.
There's more, but when you compare Stabler to others who are in the Hall of Fame, Stabler's personal statistics, his Raider team's winning percentage, the gut check great NFL games he played in, who Stabler played and won against, and the misfits he inspired and played with in Oakland, it's hard to argue that Ken Stabler doesn't deserve to be in the NFL Hall of Fame.
If Joe Namath and Bobby Layne are in Hall of Fame, Stabler should be too.
UPDATE: It looks like Andy Barall from the NY Times is getting into the debate. Check this out. I especially like this YouTube video that features Stabler.
UPDATE: Stabler is now ranked #25 by Athlon Sports in "The NFL's 25 Greatest Quarterbacks of All-Time"
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To all of this I would add that Ken Stabler not only called his own plays but was a quarterback when the first look was downfield, to the wide receivers and tight ends. The much safer, and Bill Walsh inspired, "West Coast offense" - which has quarterbacks looking at running backs immediately - arrived in the 1980s. All of this makes Stabler's 66.7% completion record (which Roger Staubach and Terry Bradshaw never approached) in 1976 that much more impressive.