Any lengthy discussion of the former NFL and Alabama star frequently evokes the response, “I thought Kenny Stabler was in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.” An effort to elicit an opinion on the worthiness of a candidate from an opponent is a delicate proposition Reluctance may be due to a number of factors – a lingering grudge, fear of organizational reprisal, a sole interest in promoting only former teammates, an unwillingness to go on record, or they do not believe in the notion of campaigning. Seeking a positive recommendation from a fierce rival is normally a longshot, but sometimes the truth prevails. Resounding approval from a competitor is a significant gesture.
The most acrimonious 1970s AFC rivalry was between Oakland and Pittsburgh. Verbal venom stemming from on-the-field action led to multiple lawsuits. Considering the history between the two teams, what are the chances a group of Steelers would gather in the home state of Stabler and shower admiration on the once known leader of the west coast foe? The John Stallworth Foundation Charity Golf Pairings and Silent Auction event in Huntsville was the perfect scenario to canvass a collection of black and gold alumni for their judgement. Seven Pittsburgh Steelers, including four members of the vaunted defense, were present at the June gathering. They are adamant believers in the talents and exploits displayed by the crafty southpaw.
Pro Football Hal of Fame member Mel Blount, a five-time Pro Bowl, three-time first-team All-Pro cornerback said, “The Snake, let me tell you about Kenny. We had a lot of battles out there on the field and he probably was the most competitive, the most accurate quarterback I ever played against and I think his record justifies him being in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Super Bowls XIII and XIV defensive line starter, John Banaszak, echoed the disbelief shared by many of the era. “I’m surprised he’s not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame to be honest with you. The great games that he had, the competitive juices he had flowing through his body were amazing. Competing against him was something special. There is no doubt about it. The Steelers-Raiders rivalry back in the 1970’s was good as any in the game.”
Pro Bowl linebacker Robin Cole was effusive in praising one of the three quarterbacks voted to 1970s NFL All-Decade Team along with Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach. “I think Kenny Stabler should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame because he was a guy that made things happen,” he said. “When push came to shove Kenny could make plays. His leadership qualities and confidence was always high. That is the way he always played and what I would see. You always felt that he would find a way to win a football game, reminding me of our own Terry Bradshaw. You always felt that he thought he would find a way to win the football game if defensively his guys could hold the other team for a little while as he got himself together, he could bring them back. And he was able to do it many times. I think Kenny Stabler should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Three-time Pro Bowl and three-time All-Pro linebacker Michel Merriweather recalls fondly observing the leader of the Silver and Black offense. “Definitely,” he said. “I grew up about 20 miles from Oakland watching them and watching him and the damage he used to do on the field. Wow! He is well overdue to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Donnie Shell, a five-time Pro Bowl and three-time All-Pro safety, stated unequivocally without reservation the Pro Football Hall of Fame merits of the 1974 Associated Press NFL MVP and 1976 Bert Bell Award winner (Player of the Year). “Absolutely,” he said. “Kenny Stabler was a great quarterback. He led the Oakland Raiders. He made them go. Kenny Stabler could throw the ball a long way with a soft touch without zipping it and it got there. He was incredible.”
Pro Bowl wide receiver Frank Lewis recounted the resiliency he witnessed on numerous occasions from the four-time Pro Bowl and All-Pro quarterback. “I couldn’t say that because I don’t know all the stats but a lot of things are based on stats but I can say that Stabler was one of our favorite quarterbacks because as receivers we always watched him when we were playing against Oakland. I enjoyed his demeanor and whole attitude, the way he took the game on. Snake was a favorite of everybody. Kenny Stabler gave everybody a difficult time. He was an excellent passer and his mental attitude was great. What I liked about him most of all was it didn’t matter what happened. He would come back and play. He may throw two interceptions in a row. Most quarterbacks would get down. He would come back and throw three straight touchdowns. I always did admire the way he played.”
Stabler’s coach at The University of Alabama was the legendary Paul W. Bryant. Each Sunday on his weekly television show, an extraordinary individual defensive hit would cause his deep growly voice to be raised an octave to utter the phrase, “Bingo, that’s a goody!”
Pro Football Hall of Fame member John Stallworth, three-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro once expressed the most articulate statement defining credentials for enshrinement, “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. The story of the NFL during Kenny Stabler’s professional career could not be told without mentioning his name.”
Fellow native Alabamian, John Stallworth, recognizes Kenny Stabler had an exemplary career warranting the signature compliment of “The Snake’s” former college coach - “Bingo, that’s a goody!”
Pro Football Hall of Fame QBs from the Kenny Stabler era on record in support:
Other Former Pittsburgh Steelers in support:
Franco Harris – Pro Football Hall of Fame RB
George Perles and Woody Widenhofer – Pittsburgh Steelers Defensive Coordinators
Pro Football Hall of Fame Former General Manager in support: