There aren’t any quarterbacks on the short list of the Hall of Fame’s senior committee — at least, there haven’t been lately — and that includes guys like Ken Anderson, Cecil Isbell and Jim Plunkett.
But it includes former Rams’ and Eagles’ star Roman Gabriel, too, and, no, unlike the others, he didn’t win an NFL championship or appear in a Super Bowl. But he was such an accomplished quarterback that he was the league’s MVP and Bert Bell Award winner in 1969, its Comeback Player of the Year four years later and a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro.
So why hasn’t he been mentioned as a Hall-of-Fame candidate? One reason is rings. He doesn’t have any, and that’s usually how we measure coaches and quarterbacks for Canton. Another is playoff wins. He doesn’t have any of those, either, and that ends the conversation.
But it shouldn’t. Because Roman Gabriel was one of the best quarterbacks of the 1960s. In fact, he was 41-11-4 during a four-year run where the Rams twice won division championships, and I know what you’re thinking: Yeah, well, big deal.
Actually, it is. Because the Rams had one winning year and no playoff appearances in the 10 seasons prior to 1966, the year George Allen named Gabriel his starting quarterback, and were a combined 43-83-4 during that time. Plus, they made that four-year push while sharing the division with the mighty Baltimore Colts and John Unitas.
Yes, the Rams had the Fearsome Foursome. But they also had a quarterback who twice led the league in touchdown passes and once in yards passing, who from 1966-72 ran for 22 touchdowns — more than any Rams’ running back — and who from 1962-76 had more rushing TDs (30) than any quarterback anywhere.
Moreover, Roman Gabriel still holds the Rams’ career records for most touchdown passes and victories by a starting quarterback.
So why hasn’t he at least been given a look by the Hall’s voters?
“I never really gave it a whole lot of thought,” Gabriel said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, “especially when it took my good friend, Kenny Stabler, to die to get in.
“I’m really pleased with my life. I’m in the Wilmington (N.C.) Hall of Fame, my hometown. I’m in Wilmington’s Walk of Fame. I’m in my college’s – N.C. State — Hall of Fame. And the North Carolina Hall of Fame.
“Some things are good, and some things happen. If it happens, it happens. And it would be great. But I don’t think about it.”
There’s one other aspect to Gabriel’s candidacy. He was the first quarterback of Filipino descent to start in the NFL, and that should count for something — much like the Raiders’ Tom Flores becoming the first Hispanic quarterback in the NFL. One difference, of course: Flores won two Super Bowls as a head coach, one as a player and one as an assistant. Gabriel did not.
“From what I’ve been told and what I researched, when I retired my numbers were comparable to some of the gentlemen that are in the Hall,” Gabriel said. “So I think that probably means as much as anything — the body of work.
“Like my good friend, David Ray, our kicker — at one time he led the league in points scored — (told me). Somebody asked him about me, and he says, ‘Well, where would the Rams have been without him?’ ”
It’s a good question … with a ready answer: Not at the top of their division.