(Photos courtesy of the Oakland Raiders)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
With the passing of Ken Stabler, there will be increased pressure on the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s senior committee to put the former Oakland Raiders’ great into Canton.
And I get it.
Stabler was one of the toughest, most dangerous and most reliable quarterbacks of the 1970s – especially in the clutch. When we interviewed former GM Ernie Accorsi on the Talk of Fame Network earlier this year he said the mark of a great quarterback was how he performed in crunch times of big games.
Ken Stabler passed the test.
OK, so he didn’t have glittering numbers. And, yes, he threw more interceptions – 28 more, in fact – than touchdown passes. But he was the lynchpin to a lethal Oakland offense that was driven by a methodical rushing attack and supported by Stabler’s deep strikes to receivers like Fred Biletnikoff, Cliff Branch and Dave Casper.
In fact, it was Casper whom Stabler found with a legendary fourth-quarter pass (“Ghost to the Post”) in an unforgettable 1977 playoff defeat of Baltimore – a pass that set up Errol Mann’s game-tying field goal and sent the game to overtime. Fittingly, it was Stabler won who it in double overtime with a 10-yard Stabler touchdown pass to Casper.
“When we were behind in the fourth quarter, with our backs to the end zone, “ said Hall-of-Fame guard Gene Upshaw, “ no matter how he had played up to that point we could look in his eyes and you knew … you knew … he was going to win it for us. That was an amazing feeling.”
And that’s what I loved about this guy. Stabler knew how to win, period, and that’s how I measure quarterbacks. Including the playoffs, he was 103-54-1, a winning percentage of .657. No, he didn’t have the strongest or most accurate arm, but he was surgical when it mattered most – and the numbers proved it. With the Raiders, he led 19 fourth-quarter comebacks and 26 game-winning drives. Moreover, he won nearly 72 percent of his games with them.
But that’s not all. He won his first 100 games faster than any quarterback up to that time (150 games), breaking Johnny Unitas’ mark of 153 starts. Since then only three quarterbacks – Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Tom Brady – bettered Stabler’s mark. Plus, he not only won a Super Bowl and was a league MVP but is the only quarterback from the 1970s’ all-decade team not in Canton.
He had a better winning percentage than Miami’s Bob Griese. He had a better playoff percentage, too. And he was more accurate than both Griese and Fran Tarkenton. Griese and Tarkenton are in the Hall of Fame. Ken Stabler is not.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Kenny Stabler was one of the best quarterbacks who ever lived,” said Hall-of-Famer Joe Namath.
“Absolutely,” said Hall-of-Fame back Franco Harris. “No question, Kenny Stabler should be in the Hall of Fame.”
But he’s not, and don’t ask me why. Maybe it’s because of his off-the-field reputation. Maybe it’s because of those interceptions. Or maybe it’s because his career sputtered after he left Oakland and finished up in Houston and New Orleans, where he produced 44 touchdowns and 79 interceptions in five seasons.
I don’t know what it is … or was. All I know is what a group of former Pittsburgh Steelers told Bama Mag’s A.P. Steadham recently when he interviewed them about Stabler (http://www.scout.com/college/alabama/story/1559684-steelers-endorse-stabler-for-pro-hall-of-fame). They were not only surprised but appalled that he’s not in the Hall of Fame.
Maybe that changes now. Maybe it changes soon. The Hall this year can push two senior nominees, and the heat just went up for a committee that has too many worthy candidates waiting for admission.