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Ken Stabler deserves another look from the Hall of Fame

Ken Stabler


As the stories pour in about the great Raiders legend Kenny Stabler, who died on Wednesday at the age of 69, many fans may simply assume that he’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Surely, a quarterback who won a Super Bowl and an MVP and who had a hand in many of the most memorable moments of his era of pro football must have a bust in Canton.

Nope. Stabler never got elected to the Hall of Fame and didn’t even get very close: He was only a Hall of Fame finalist three times, and voted down on all of those occasions.

And yet Stabler’s list of accomplishments suggests that his Hall of Fame case is strong. He was voted the Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player in 1974, and he easily could have won the award in 1976, when he led the league in passer rating, touchdown passes, yards per pass and completion percentage while also leading a league-high four fourth-quarter comebacks and five game-winning drives. He finished in the Top 10 in the NFL in passing yards, completion percentage and touchdown passes every year from 1973 to 1979.

Those accomplishments don’t even begin to tell the story of Stabler’s career, however. He was the most colorful character on perhaps the most colorful team ever, the Raiders of the 1970s. He led those Raiders to a championship in Super Bowl XI. He threw two of the most famous passes of the 1970s, known as the “Sea of Hands” and “Ghost to the Post.” He fumbled his way to a Raiders touchdown with the infamous “Holy Roller.” He ran for a 30-yard touchdown that appeared to seal a Raiders win in a playoff game in Pittsburgh in 1972, only to watch from the sidelines as the Steelers won the game on the “Immaculate Reception.” Not many plays are so big that they get their own names, and yet Stabler was involved, in one way or another, in four of them.

So why isn’t Stabler in the Hall of Fame? Some think the voters had an anti-Raiders bias when Stabler was up for election. Some say he didn’t stay on top long enough and had only a few great years. Some say his stats aren’t good enough.

Stabler’s passing numbers look pedestrian today, but they need to be considered within the historical context. In 1976, Stabler completed 66.7 percent of his passes, which at the time was stunning: Stabler was the only quarterback in the pre-1980s NFL to complete 65 percent of his passes in a season in which he attempted at least 250 passes. In 1976, when Stabler led the league with a passer rating of 103.4, the league average passer rating was 63.6. By way of comparison, last year, Tony Romo’s league average passer rating was 113.2, less than 10 points higher than Stabler’s in 1976. But the league-average passer rating last year was 88.9, more than 25 points higher than in 1976.

Fortunately, the Hall of Fame has a veterans committee, which is designed to identify oversights in the regular voting process, and give players who were passed over previously a second chance. The veterans committee should give another look to The Snake.