Stabler Contender For Hall Of Fame

Compelling statistical summations conventionally are the badges of honor earning football aristocracy. Unorthodox candidates depend on the value of intangibles to reach exalted status. Kenny Stabler dazzled audiences with magical comebacks. Pinpoint accuracy over outstretched limbs befuddled zone defenders. Completions to downfield receivers on long comeback routes extended defenses.

Poker-faced clutch performances under dire circumstances were common for the daring left-handed quarterback. Those meritorious memories are reasons the silver-haired signal caller may achieve knighthood into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

A player must have completed his active career by at least 25 years to be designated as a Senior Nominee. Five members of the nine-person rotating Seniors Committee are scheduled to assemble in Canton, Ohio for the August 24 vote. Emerging from the annual Senior Nominee meeting will be a maximum of two candidates. A total of 17 finalists including 15 Modern Era nominees will be scrutinized by the full Selection Committee at the time of the election held during the weekend of the Super Bowl. Senior Nominees must receive a minimum of 80 per cent of the vote from the 44 media members just as a Modern Era candidate for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Although the fourth estate wields the figurative sword bestowing the exclusive rank, legendary members voiced their opinions on the candidacy of Kenny "Snake" Stabler, who took his quarterback skills from Alabama to, most notably, the Oakland Raiders.

San Diego Chargers Dan Fouts, a 1993 inductee, categorically feels the accurate pocket passer is imminently worthy to be immortalized. "I think he should be in," said Fouts an AFC Western Division rival. "He was a winner. A winner is often defined by how well he plays in the clutch and that was Kenny. Having played against him I always knew if he had time and it was a close game, he would come through He was a difference maker for that team. The way he and (Fred) Biletnikoff worked together and (Cliff) Branch and (Dave) Casper, they were an awesome team."

Roger Staubach, revered as "Captain Comeback" for late game heroics, registered 15 fourth quarter comebacks and 23 game winning drives, yet trails Stabler's record of 19 and 26. They were the synonymous duo personifying excellence orchestrating the two-minute drill. The Dallas Cowboys 1985 inductee unequivocally states, "I think if you look at the quality of his play, I feel like Kenny is definitely a Hall of Famer." Stabler earned the distinction of being honored as an NFL 1970s All-Decade quarterback with two first ballot PFHOF enshrinees, Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach. The PFHOF Selection Committee members of the era deemed Stabler the choice over two inductees with multiple Super Bowl appearances in the same decade, Bob Griese and Fran Tarkenton.

Fellow University of Alabama quarterback, Joe Namath, trumpets the exploits of the Foley native. "There is no doubt in my mind Kenny Stabler was one of the best quarterbacks that ever lived," said Namath, a 1985 inductee and New York Jets legend. "Any team he played for he made better. He outplayed me on many Sundays. If I was coaching I would want him as my quarterback and I know the teammates would want him as their quarterback too. The "Snake" was sensational. Game day he was ready. Every teammate he ever had loves him. They respect him big time. That's a fact."

Was there a more flammable professional football rivalry in history than the Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers? Dante's Inferno would have been a respite from the scorching skirmishes. Spirited play, verbal jousting and lawsuits engaged the legion of fans, media, and NFL personnel. Grudges between the participants have persisted, but even those feelings cannot silence three Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees, Terry Bradshaw (1989), Franco Harris (1990) and John Stallworth (2002). They unanimously favor enshrinement for the quarterback known to torment their impenetrable "Steel Curtain" defense.

Stallworth's succinct perspective illuminates the ultimate respect held by a competitor. "Prior to my induction into the Hall of Fame, someone said that one consideration for Hall of Fame induction should be whether the story of the NFL during a particular player's tenure could be told without mentioning the player's name," he said. "The story of the NFL during Kenny Stabler's professional career could not be told without mentioning his name." Harris emphatically concurs stating, "Absolutely, no question about it, most surely, Kenny Stabler should be in the Hall of Fame."

Perhaps no testament on behalf of Stabler's brilliance resonates louder than praise from his Pittsburgh Steelers counterpart, Terry Bradshaw. "I for one found him to be an absolutely phenomenal quarterback," Bradshaw said. "Poised, the guy scared you to death, made things happen, accurate as all get out, great leader. A real winning quarterback and a guy that was just above everybody else."

Revamped rules contributed to an explosion of astronomical offensive numbers produced during the proceeding years following Stabler's career. Defensive contact with receivers has been restricted and a concerted effort to protect the quarterback favored the offense. Aerial numbers compiled in recent decades have been skewed by a proliferation of system quarterbacks.

Bradshaw said, "In the last two decades we have become a statistic driven society. It's all about stats in the NFL. Let those guys play back in the ‘70's when you got your head knocked off and against bump'n run coverage. People forget playing quarterback in this league is more than just stats. There are guys all over the place who have thrown for more yards, but Kenny had all the intangibles a great quarterback has. He has all of them. He called his own plays too."

Short of genuflecting, Bradshaw defers to the four-time Pro Bowler. "I would gladly step aside," said Bradshaw who shares the same fourth quarter comebacks and game winning drive totals with Stabler, 19 and 26 respectively. "As far as I'm concerned he was a much better quarterback in the NFL than I was. I'm not saying this to be humble and hoping someone says that is nice. That is just the way I see it."

Coaching genius Paul Brown would not entertain thoughts of drafting a southpaw quarterback. Stabler's performance forever revolutionized the position in the minds of front office personnel pioneering the way for future generations to be accepted. "If nothing else put him in the Hall of Fame because he is the best left-handed quarterback to ever play the game," Bradshaw replied. "There are two quarterbacks I absolutely marveled at – Kenny Stabler and Roger Staubach."

Stabler was selected in the second round of the 1968 NFL Draft. Retired executive Ron Wolf was with the Oakland Raiders in personnel at the time and an instrumental figure in the decision. "When they threw a forward pass when he was playing, they were trying to get first downs and score touchdowns. Nowadays they are trying to get a 70-75 completion percentage and punt the ball," said Wolf. Dink and dunk was a term recently introduced to the football vernacular. West Coast offenses prevalent today design passes to resemble the equivalent of a long hand-off.

Wolf clarified requirements for the prestigious honor. "The true measure of a Hall of Fame player is he must be a dominant player of his era at this position. Kenny Stabler was that. If that is not a Hall of Fame player, what is a Hall of Fame player," he proclaimed. "He was voted to the NFL 1970's All-Decade Team by people who saw him play."

Every quarterback ever voted to the combined ten NFL/AFL All-Decade Teams is enshrined in Canton albeit five. Three are sure fire first ballot future members yet to reach the eligibility stage – Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The other two are Stabler and Cecil Isbell of the Green Bay Packers who retired prematurely to accept an assistant coaching position with his alma mater, Purdue University.

Contemporaries of Stabler vividly recall late Sunday afternoons with the Raiders trailing and the clock crawling towards double zero. Trotting onto the field with ice water in his veins, the salt and pepper colored hair seeping from his helmet, was football's two-minute master magician. Indelible images are readily summoned of the "Snake" gingerly retreating to a statuesque pose in the pocket, eyes calmly scanning the progression of options with the ball cocked prior to the trademark quick release. Invariably the intended receiver plucked the dart thrown spiral for a game clinching touchdown reception or gained sufficient yardage to attempt a winning field goal. Accompanying the dramatic finish was the constant roar of the adoring crowd realizing they had witnessed a football miracle.

Numbers cannot camouflage the physical gifts displayed by the 1974 NFL MVP for those competitors of the era. "He's in a very small class of unbelievably talented players," said Bradshaw. "For the life of me I don't understand why he is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame." Neither can anyone else who observed the cool exploits of Kenny Stabler.

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