Hard to believe, but since Norm Van Brocklin left the Rams in 1958 there’s only one Los Angeles Rams’ quarterback who played more than two seasons with the club that I’d consider Hall-of-Fame worthy … and, no, his name is not Kurt Warner.
He played in St. Louis, not L.A. It’s not Jim Everett or James Harris, either. Or Vince Ferragamo, Zeke Bratkowski, Pat Haden or Bill Wade.
So who’s left? Try Roman Gabriel.
All the guy did was lead the Rams a 41-11-4 record in four consecutive years where he three times was named to the Pro Bowl and voted the league’s MVP. Then, after leaving the Rams for Philadelphia, he was the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year in 1973 — a season when he was named to his fourth Pro Bowl and led the league with 3,219 yards and 23 touchdown passes.
But that’s not all. From 1966-72, he had 22 rushing touchdowns. So what? So it was more than any other Ram, and his 30 career rushing scores were more than any other quarterback anywhere during his 16-year career (1962-77).
When he retired, he ranked as the Rams’ all-time leader in touchdown passes, completions and yards passing. Furthermore, he still holds the team’s TD record … 46 years after playing his last game with L.A. Want more? We have it. He had a winning record (86-64-7) for his career and was 11-11-1 from 1962-65. And why is that significant? Because the other Rams’ quarterbacks from 1962-65 were a combined 4-27-1.
He twice led the league in scoring passes, is the only quarterback from his era to rank high among all-time quarterbacks in lowest interception percentage and played in 89 consecutive games — the highest among quarterbacks of the 1960s. Plus, there are social implications, with Gabriel the first Pacific islander to start at quarterback in the NFL. Gabriel is of Filipino descent.
What’s missing, of course, is a championship ring, but no sweat. Dan Fouts doesn’t have one. Neither does Warren Moon. And it didn’t keep them out of Canton. It didn’t keep George Allen out, either, and he was Gabriel’s coach in L.A.
In fact, when Allen took over for Harland Svare in 1966, one of the first moves he made was to make Gabriel his starting quarterback. Result: Gabriel started all 14 games, and the Rams went on to their first winning season (they were 8-6) since 1958.
The following year they were 11-1-2 and won their division. In 1968, they were 10-3-1 and second in the Western Conference’s Central Division. Then they were 11-3, followed by 9-4-1 in 1970. Granted, that’s a relatively small window of success, but small sample sizes qualify for Hall-of-Fame conversations ever since the induction of Terrell Davis last summer.
And that’s what I’m calling for here.
Look, do I think Roman Gabriel was the best quarterback of his time? No, I don’t. John Unitas was. But he was among the best, with a strong and accurate arm, durability and a knack for making those around him better. He did it in L.A., and he did it in Philadelphia.
I keep hearing people say he deserves to have his case heard by Hall-of-Fame voters, and, yes, I’d say he does. Just as Ken Anderson and Jim Plunkett deserve to have their candidacies heard. Like Plunkett, Gabriel has been neither a finalist or a semifinalist, meaning he’s never been discussed by selectors.
And that’s a shame.
Granted, he’s a longshot for Canton. Quarterbacks that didn’t win a playoff game aren’t on anybody’s short list. But a quarterback who twice led the NFL in touchdown passes, was a league MVP, put his team back on the map and was durable, accurate and successful should at least be heard.
And that’s Roman Gabriel.