State Your Case: Ken Stabler

(Photo courtesy of the Oakland Raiders)
(Note: This story first appeared last August. We are re-running it due to the death of Ken Stabler, who succumbed to colon cancer Thursday at 69).

By Ron Borges

Talk of Fame Network

If one ever needed proof that statistics don’t tell the full story of an athlete’s worthiness for the Hall of Fame one need only look at the baffling case of Kenny Stabler.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame has named ten All-Decade teams dating back to the 1920s (including an all-time AFL team). Those teams include 25 quarterbacks. Three – Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady – are not yet eligible for enshrinement. Of the remaining 22 only two, Stabler and Cecil Isbell, failed to be inducted. Why?

In Isbell’s case, longevity seems the issue. He was named to the 1930s All-Decade team but played only five seasons for the Packers before retiring to become Purdue’s head coach. Fair enough, for protracted excellence is part of the requirement.

But what of Stabler, who played 14 1/2 years, was a four-time Pro Bowler, 1974 MVP, 1976 Player of the Year, Super Bowl winner and owner of an overall winning percentage of .657? During his 10 years in Oakland he led the Raiders to victory 71.9% of the time, including 19 fourth-quarter comebacks and 26 game-winning drives. Is that not a Hall-of=Fame quarterback?

Stabler has been passed over as a finalist three times while two of his peers, Bob Griese and Fran Tarkenton, were enshrined although neither was All-Decade. When one thinks of Griese one thinks of winning yet Stabler’s winning percentage exceeded Griese’s 61%. So did his playoff winning percentage. Few would argue Griese was a more dangerous or more accurate passer.

As for Tarkenton, he lasted 18 years and so his numbers are higher except in accuracy and winning. Stabler completed 59.8% of his throws – a high percentage in those days of throwing the ball deep downfield – to Tarkenton’s 57% (and Griese’s 56.2%) and he led his team to victory far more often. Tarkenton was 124-109-6 as a starter, a winning percentage of 52%. Stabler was 96-49-1, even going 16-12 with the aging Oilers and 11-11 with the lowly Saints. Add the playoffs and Stabler was 103-54-1 as a starter, an overall winning percentage of .656.

Stabler also lost several prime years, first to a college knee injury that kept him on injured reserve in 1968, his rookie season, after being forced to play two games for the Spokane Shockers of the semi-pro Continental League by Al Davis, who wanted to test that knee before putting Stabler on the payroll. Weary of backing up Daryle Lamonica, Stabler quit the next year but returned in 1970.

He started only two games between 1970-72, thus losing five prime years while languishing on the bench angrily until John Madden finally inserted him into a 1972 playoff game against Pittsburgh with the Raiders trailing with six minutes to go. As would become his trademark, Stabler led a comeback, scrambling for a 30-yard touchdown to give Oakland the lead only to lose on Franco Harris’ legendary “Immaculate Reception.”

The following year Oakland was 1-2 with Lamonica starting before Madden put Stabler in. He reeled off five straight victories and remained the starter for the next seven years before being traded to Houston after a contract dispute. He still became the fastest quarterback to win 100 games (100-50),nosing out Johnny Unitas, who held the record at 153. It has since been eclipsed by Terry Bradshaw (147), Joe Montana (139) and Brady (131). Three are Hall of Famers. Brady is sure to be the fourth. Only Stabler is on the outside looking in.

The major knock on him is that he threw more interceptions (222) than touchdowns (194) but Davis believed in the deep ball at all cost, understanding that at times you wouldn’t hit it. Stabler twice led the NFL in touchdown passes and was second a third. That was the gambling nature of the Raiders’ passing game. By comparison, Joe Namath completed only 50.1% of his passes, threw 220 interceptions, 173 TDs and was 62-63-4 as a starter. That didn’t seem to hurt his Hall of Fame credentials.

“There is no doubt in my mind Kenny Stabler was one of the best quarterbacks who ever lived,” says Namath, yet the most convincing endorsements come from the Steelers who opposed him in so many big games.

“Absolutely, no question, Kenny Stabler should be in the Hall of Fame,” Harris said.

“He’s definitely a Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback,” added former Steelers’ defensive line coach and defensive coordinator George Perles. “He could make a receiver great because he could put the ball right in there. He was accurate.”

He was also a Hall of Famer, whether he gets to Canton or not.














  1. Joe Corace says:

    Stabler needs to get a job on NFL network, that is the ticket to getting into the Hall!!!
    (Sapp,Irvin,and Sanders)

  2. mark vanslyke says:

    just don’t understand the raider-hate for the HOF….Kenny was a game-changer and the QB of the 70’s….lester hayes,jack tatum,tom flores and finally cliff branch all deserve a spot on the hall. also jim plunkett deserves consideration…..so glad that guy got in…..but Kenny better be the next older raider to get in along with tim brown…honor that great 77 raider team and their lefty leader….the snake

    • How can there be Raider hate when 10 Raiders from the 1970s have already been enshrined? More than the 1970s Steelers (9), in fact.

      • mark vanslyke says:


        • mark vanslyke says:

          the steelers and raiders from the 70’s were the dominate teams of the afc…77 raiders one of the greatest teams of all time. I just know that the raiders are shorted on the HOF for whatever reason….dr. z from SI will never let snake in…the HOF is for the best….the game changers and the legends the raiders had a truck load of that if griese, nammath and dawson is in….then snake better get his bust 🙂

  3. Howard Coleman says:

    I believe in the conspiracy theory

  4. EtOHRx says:

    Make it so. Then add Plunkett and the players Mark listed.

  5. Mike says:

    Rick – Still can be hate, though I think that is a bit to strong of a word. Snake/Hayes/Branch should be in for sure. If more Steelers need in then I’m for it if deserved. Snakes stats were covered in the article. Branch’s stats smoke #88 of the Steelers. Just does not make sense.

  6. Michael Bowman says:

    Stabler should have been in the Hall of Fame before Steve Young, Jim Kelly and Troy Aikman (only got in because he won 3 Super Bowls).

  7. Steve says:

    Whenever anyone writes critically about the passing stats for the qbs of the 70’s and 80’s, people forget that after a pass was thrown the qb could be crushed or hit in the head by a defender. Late hits on qbs were common and not a penalized. Head slaps, corkscrew tackling were common. Its easy to see how that might influenced passing completions and incompletions.

    In the 70’s, defenders could play far more aggressively and punish offensive players so many ways within the existing rule structure than as opposed to know. Simply much harder to pass and catch in the older eras as compared to now.

    If Stabler, Bradshaw, Namath played in the last 10 years, their completion % would be significantly higher and if Manning, Brady and Rogers etc. played in the 70’s there completion % would be significantly lower. Need to evaluate players differently than now.

  8. mark vanslyke says:

    i really cant let this go….I would love to see a ground swell of support for the snake and get him in there…I was looking at the HOF site and wow…..roger staubach, warren moon, fran tarkinton, …all in. 2 mintues to go playoff game who do you want ….fran or snake…and don’t forget in those days qb’s called their own plays snake was the master of the 2 minute drill and played in some huge games….immaculate deception, holly roller, sea of hands, lylte fumble, and on and on….he is woven into the history of the nfl…do the right thing and put him where he belongs!!!!

  9. Joe Corace says:

    No kidding, the 70’s Raiders, Steelers and Dolphins dominated the NFL. Those teams should have the most in the HOF. Yet the Raiders seem to be the odd man out most of the time.

    • Odd man out? Raiders have 10 Hall of Famers from the 1970s, Steelers 9 and the Dolphins 6. Steelers won four Super Bowls Dolphins 2 and Raiders 1. How are the Raiders the odd man out in the 1970s?

  10. mark vanslyke says:

    true the raiders only won one sb in the 70’s…but they played in many afc championship title games and their players overlap the 60’s and 80’s….the raiders had a lot of success in the late 60’s with blanda, otto etc…older raiders then they won 2 sb’s in the early 80’s with a lot the later generation raiders carrying over….guy, branch, Hendricks, casper etc….some guys were there for it all…shell, Upshaw and madden, davis. the run of success that Oakland had from 1967 to 1983…wow won 175…lost 60 tied in 8 games….one losing season played in 8 afc title games won 3 sb’s…they deserve more players because they had a longer run of success over a longer time than the steeler or dolphins who both had hard times during that span…the raiders were very good for a 16 year period…hate us or love us Oakland had many HOF players over that time and Snake deserves the HOF.

  11. mark vanslyke says:

    and just some more facts….madden had a head to head winning record against all his contempary greats…landry,noll,shula,etc….the combo of madden and snake was a winning combo 🙂

  12. Mike says:

    Thank you for this fine article outlining The Snakes HOF worthiness. I have begun a petition drive to help bring attention to the matter. I hope you will take a moment to SIGN and SHARE the petition. You will not receive any emails or be spammed. It’s legit.
    Ken and family are aware of the drive and are grateful.

  13. Mike says:

    I won’t’t speak to the Raider hate issue. Its too subjective. However, the omission of Ken Stabler from the Pro Football Hall of Fame is inexplicable.
    MVP, multiple Pro Bowler, Superbowl winner, The only one of three 70’s All Decade Team QB’s not in the Hall, better stats than Namath AND Griese, participant in some of the NFL’s most legendary plays and games, etc., etc. It is INEXPLICABLE.

  14. Mike says:

    Concerning career winning percentage, Stabler is 8th in the history of the league, behind only Brady, Staubach*, Montana*, Manning, Bradshaw* and Roethlisberger. Stabler is AHEAD of several who are already inducted. The list, in order, after Stabler continues: Young*, Unitas*, Elway*, Kelly*, Favre, Theisman, Griese*, Starr*, Dawson* and Marino*.

    “*” Designates those already in the HOF.

    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_most_wins_by_a_National_Football_League_starting_quarterback

  15. Judy says:

    Thank You Ron Borges for this great article! I have been waiting on an article like this and the petition that is circulating. I appear to be the first female to comment by looking at the names. Even a female realizes something is not right here. This is wrong, so wrong. When your stats clearly state you belong in the hall of fame and you are continually snubbed and over looked. Then you need to bring out the smell tester. Something stinks! And it really has a very bad odor to it. Could that odor possibly be? A vendetta by someone on this veteran committee? Do it! Induct Kenny Stabler into The Hall of Fame!!!!! And please go to: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/541/199/738petition-to-induct-ken-stabler-into-the-pro-football-hall-of-fame/#

    • Ron Borges says:

      Judy I agree with all you said except “even a female.” Knowledgeable football females exist across the country and you are clearly one of them. Hopefully the fight for Stabler’s candidacy will lead to his induction. Hope you continue to visit the site and listen to our show each weekend because Kenny Stabler is not the only former player in this predicament.

  16. Mike says:

    Ron, how can I better advocate for Ken’s induction? Can you please give me some advice? I’ve gathered nearly 500 signatures since 8/8/14, but I don’t know what it will take to turn the tide. Any advice you can offer, would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

  17. Ron, thank you for this excellent article on the Snake. Obviously, Kenny Stabler belongs in the NFL Hall of Fame. The man only dedicated his life to WINNING in the NFL, by percentages, he is among the NFL Elite for WINNING. Ken Stabler is a WINNER, he won on the field and off the field. Stats, Tarkenton, and personality, Namath, have paved the road to the Hall of Fame for them. Just Win Baby, Commitment to Excellence, were his team mantras, and then all he did was win more games in the 1970’s than bradshaw, tarkenton, namath, griese, fouts. Now come on NFL fans, look at those 5 QBs, Kenny Stabler was as good if not better than everyone of these 5 NFL Hall of Famers. We all know the Snake will eventually be in the NFL Hall of Fame, but in my greed, as a True Raider Fan, my commitment to excellence is to see Ken, the Snake, Stabler into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2016. Andre Reed made it this year and he couldn’t get arrested at 4 Super Bowls! WAKE UP NFL FANS, old timer election committee, and current Hall of Famers, make a ruckus, make a commotion, and ….Elect the Snake to he HALL of FAME before it is too late!!! Heaven forbid, but when he passes, and then realizing that the Snake is NOT in the NFL Hall of FAme….the ROAR, the DISBELIEF, the DISGUST that all sports fans will display will be MONSTEROUS!!! So NFL and the ignorant nomination people, get your priorities in order, no more Point after TD tinkering, no more penalties, no more foolish rules, and ELECT the SNAKE to the NFL HALL of FAME in 2016!!!!

    • Ron Borges says:

      It has been an uphill climb for Stabler and it’s only steeper now that he’s in the Senior pool. That’s deep water from which very few candidates escape but maybe he will make it. If he gets into the room for a final debate I think he has a reasonable chance. But a lot of voters never saw him play a down and if you just go by statistics he has a rough road. Keep plugging your man!

  18. Mike says:

    We’re at nearly 700 signatures and rolling. We’ll be at 5000 before you know it. People care about Stabler’s induction.

  19. Ron,
    How does Joe Namath get into the Hall of Fame with his stats? 2-1 in post season, yes 2-1, pretty pathetic, and he has a 50% passer rating, even more pathetic. How can stats be The Snakes problem?

    Not just!!

    To right this wrong and make a statement to your your sports world…..You should make Kenny, the Snake, Stabler’s introduction into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2016 your #1 Priority!!!

    Have a nice day 🙂

  20. Judy says:

    @ Nigel Paycheck! Stats ARE NOT Kenny Stabler’s problem. I have read all of the prior comments and you guys have more than stated he should already be inducted on pure stats. That being said. Has to be another reason? Right? Right! Somebody or more than one somebodies that has the power to induct Kenny. Does not want him there! “We the sports fans” do. We out number you! So I will repeat you Nigel Paycheck: This is not just!! To right this wrong and make a statement to the sports world…..You should make Kenny The Snake Stabler’s introduction into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2016 your #1 Priority!!!

  21. Rich W. says:

    Ken Stabler most definitely should be in the Hall of Fame. Would John Madden, Fred Biletnikoff, Dave Casper, Art Shell, Gene Upshaw or even Al Davis be in the Hall of Fame without Ken Stabler? I say no. This was not a team where you could just plug in anyone at quarterback and win.

    Ken Stabler played in an era where he, the quarterback, called the plays, not John Madden nor Tom Flores. Kenny called the plays. It was not about the giant stats of today. Back then Ken Stabler was the best at sizing up the opponent for three quarters and then striking with venom in the fourth, almost always snatching the victory.

    Stabler’s winning percentage while on the Raiders was .726 and .661 career, ranking him near the top all time! The Stabler/Madden tandem had a record of 60 wins and 19 losses for .759 winning percentage, while competing in the dominant AFC where he had to go up against the Dolphins and Steelers every year. Though the Raiders had only won one Super Bowl, they were the winningest team in the NFL with Stabler and almost every year they where in the AFC championship game.

    The last two years with the Raiders, it was the defense that let them down. I know, I was there every game. I watched his last game with the Raiders against Seattle and it was the defense that could no longer stop anyone. Ken Stabler is still the leading passer for the Raiders all time.

    As for Al Davis, every great player or coach that got bigger than Al, Al despised. i.e. Marcus Allen, John Gruden, Ken Stabler, even John Madden in a way. He had it out for Stabler for a long time. Al was mindless about the “long ball”.

    Kenny took the game in stride because he knew he had the opponent beat before they even took the field. Kenny was the king of cool and all of his players looked to him for leadership. Did Dave Casper call the plays? No. Stabler was the real genius of that team.

    As for his time with Houston, he did take them to the playoffs, but if he would have stayed on the Raiders that year, (1980) the Raiders would have done better than their 11-5 record. The Raiders defense was much better that year, which was the ultimate key to their success in getting to and winning the Super Bowl. Let us not forget that the “genius” Al Davis traded Stabler for Pastorini who started the season 2 and 3 and was booed off the field. Only after injury to Pastorini did Plunket come on the scene, and he was no Ken Stabler.

    The Raiders were Kenny’s team. Back then a player was on the same team for life, so going to Houston and then to the Saints was a real blow. He did not have the same passion, because how could he, these were not the Raiders. The Raiders won with passion and a winning attitude and that started with Ken Stabler.

    If Stabler had short hair, played in New York or LA, and played by the rules (did what he was told), he’d be in the Hall already. But Stabler was a rebel, like the Raiders. He was the king of the rebels with his long hair and his partying life style just like the rest of the Raiders. The Raiders and Stabler were part of the cultural revolution of the Oakland Bay Area, and all of the squares across America despised him for that, and that is the REAL reason they don’t vote for him. He really did do it “his way”.

    Do the right thing and put this man in the Hall of Fame with the rest of his RAIDER brothers. He got them there now its his turn. Do it while he is still on this earth to receive the honor and have John Madden give the speech.

    Ken Stabler, you deserve to be in the NFL Hall of Fame

  22. Mike says:

    Nigel, Ron has been a leader in this case. He wrote this article to give the matter a chance to be discussed.

    Rich, thanks for referencing the petition website. I honestly don’t think it’s a “square” versus “counter culture.” Ken’s had opposition and tough breaks.

    I feel it’s best to express our passion in a positive manner and foster the cooperation and help of the Selection Committee Members who do their best. They recently had limitations placed on them by the HOF that will make it tougher for seniors to get in. All the more reason to foster cooperation and enlist their help as is possible.

    The PASSION for Ken’s enshrinement to GREAT. Let’s keep it as positive as possible. Let’s be the best ambassadors for Ken that we can be.

    • Making a Stance, Drawing line in the Grid Iron, Enough is Enough, Nice Guys finish last, No time like the Present…

      Ken Stabler made me a football fan, a raider fan, taught me to embrace history, he deserves our immediate attention. Just win Baby!!!

      Mike, I agree with you Ron and yourself have done an outstanding job and Thank you.

      Nigel Paycheck, Ken Stabler Ambassador for induction into the NFL Hall of Fame ASAP!!!

      #1 Priority is Ken, the Snake, Stabler, inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2016!!

  23. Mike says:

    Thanks, Nigel. Just doing my small part. Believe me when I say, I’m with you!

    I need to proofread my comments a bit better prior to posting. Doh! I meant to say, “The PASSION for Ken’s enshrinement IS GREAT.” Channeling that passion to positive, productive action is my goal and I could sure use some help in bringing attention to Ken’s case. He’s VERY deserving of enshrinement.

  24. Judy says:

    I am also with the two of you Mike and Nigel! I sure want to be positive here. Because I know in my heart that Ron is a good man and he will do what he can to assist and bring this to awareness!

  25. Mike Yokum says:

    In ’76, Ken Stabler led the NFL in completion percentage (66.7), touchdowns (27), passer rating (103.4) and yards per attempt (9.4). He is one of only 20 players in history to average more than 9 YPA in a season of at least 250 passes, and he did it way before it was cool. Overall, his 9.41 YPA season is seventh best in NFL history. He was only the fifth QB in NFL history to post a passer rating of at least 103.
    Most of the other players to accomplish that feat in the 20th century are in the Hall of Fame, including Otto Graham, Y.A. Tittle, Bart Starr, Dan Marino, Joe Montana and Steve Young.
    Stabler was the only one to do it in the 70s.
    Furthermore, he led the NFL in game-winning drives three times in his career: 1973 (his first full season as starter), ’74 and ’76. From 1973-77, Stabler won 50 games as the starter for the Raiders, which was tied for the most over that period with Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys.
    He did, however, have a better winning percentage than Staubach for those years, going 50-11-1 compared to Staubach’s 50-19.

  26. Mike Yokum says:

    Since 8/8/14, I’ve gathered over 6,250 signatures demanding Stabler’s enshrinement. The fans are speaking loudly on his behalf. I truly hope the voters are listening.
    Your outspoken support is GREATLY appreciated, Ron.

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