(Photos courtesy of the Oakland Raiders)
Talk of Fame Network
Former quarterback Ken Stabler is one of two seniors’ candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016, but former teammate, Hall-of-Fame receiver Fred Biletnikoff, doesn’t get it. Why, he asks, has it taken Stabler this long to advance this far?
“I always thought that Kenny should’ve been in the Hall of Fame years ago,” he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “He was just as deserving as any of the quarterbacks that have gone into the Hall of Fame.”
Maybe, but Stabler had to wait.
The 1974 league MVP, Stabler was a finalist for Canton three times (1990, 1991, 2003) but failed to make the final cut each year. So this year the Hall’s seniors’ committee brought back Stabler and former offensive lineman Dick Stanfel, who twice has been rejected as a seniors’ candidate.
Ironically, both nominations followed their deaths last summer.
“Kenny was a great field general,” said Biletnikoff. “He was terrific. He had Hall-of-Fame numbers and stats, and why it’s taken this long to really have him up front being mentioned as he is this year … maybe he had to pass away, I don’t know.
“But at this point right now, I feel that, rather than being in the senior thing, he should’ve been with the players that are being nominated and announced in another week or so. I don’t’ see any hesitation about having Kenny in the Hall of Fame.”
A flamboyant personality with the Raiders, Stabler was known as much for his late-game heroics as his off-the-field exploits. He had 23 comebacks in the fourth quarter or overtime and won seven playoff games with the Raiders – including Super Bowl XI. He’s the only quarterback from the 1970s who started and won a Super Bowl who isn’t in the Hall.
There are a multitude of memories of Stabler, so we tried Biletnikoff for his favorite. What, we asked, is the first thing that comes to mind when he thinks of his former quarterback?
“Totally in control out on the field,” he said. “Total control of the huddle, of the play calling, of the situation that he has to perform in. Using the personnel on such a great level, the way Kenny used all of us, was unbelievable. He knew exactly what he wanted to do in situations.
“All of the stories you hear and all that stuff … when Kenny got out on that field he was a great, great, excellent player. I think John (Hall-of-Fame coach John Madden) used to call timeouts just so he could come over and look like he was coaching Kenny. There were never too many long conversations on the sideline with John and Kenny. Kenny would run over, then have to run back out on the field with about 30 seconds left.
“John knew, and all of us knew what Kenny meant to the team and the type of player he was. When he came into that huddle with all of the great players that we had – and they were in that huddle with Kenny – Kenny just dominated that huddle, and nobody opened their mouths. You get in the huddle, and you listen to Kenny. You hear the play, and you knew exactly what he wanted everybody to do and you left. And Kenny executed.
“It was a lot of fun playing with Kenny because of the fact that he could use the personnel; he knew what to do. He knew how to handle everything. He knew what to do against different defenses and who he wanted to go after in ballgames. His knowledge on the field was amazing.
“It wasn’t ever (like) you were sending a robot out there on the field to call a play, and, ‘OK, the guy’s going to be open in the flat and get the ball down to Cliff (Branch) or Casper (tight end Dave Casper) or whatever.’ Kenny knew right away where he was going to go with the football. Before the ball was snapped Kenny knew what to expect from the defenses. It was amazing. It really was.”