Ken Stabler Belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – HOF Edition

Originally Published 12, July 2015 w/Prologue 10, May 2019

When it comes to who should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, most inductees are in for the stellar performance over their careers entirety. Others are in based upon producing some of the greatest moments in football history. A third definition in the eyes of the The Chancellor is “Can we talk about the era in which a player performed without his name coming up?”  Ken Stabler of the Oakland Raiders fits the bill in all 3 of these categories.

KennyStablerHere in Taylor Blitz Times we have chronicled the long time bias against former Raiders when it comes to enshrinement. Head Coach John Madden’s field general has yet to be elected to Canton. Stabler was a throwback QB who called his own plays and routinely led the Raiders into the playoffs during the 1970’s. Along with Fan Tarkenton, Roger Staubach, and Terry Bradshaw, these four ruled the 1970’s and arguably Stabler had the most legendary moments.

On December 23,1972 in the AFC Divisional Playoff in Pittsburgh, Stabler, whom Madden had been grooming since 1968, was the wild card needed to change the tide of a game down 6-0. Desperate for some offense, John Madden inserted a young, mobile Kenny “The Snake” Stabler in for an anemic Daryle Lamonica which produced immediate results.

On a last second desperation drive, the Raiders came scrambling downfield with a young quarterback in his first significant action in an NFL playoff game. At the Steelers 30 with less than 1:30 to go, Stabler avoided the Steel Curtain, took off and scored on a 30 yard TD run to give the Raiders their first lead of the game 7-6. “The Snake” had done it!! A hero was born!! There was bedlam on the Oakland sideline and with 1:13 to go began to make reservations for they would host the AFC Championship Game against the undefeated Miami Dolphins.

However this was overshadowed by The Immaculate Reception that happened 4 plays later. Then later that day Roger Staubach had his 1st famous comeback in a 30-28 win in San Francisco. Yet Oakland knew they had their quarterback of the future and he could perform in pressure situations. Like a young George Blanda, who had a magical run during 1970, the Raiders could depend upon Stabler’s heroics for years to come.

Over the next 5 seasons as the starter, Stabler guided the Raiders to the AFC Championship Game. An NFL record. He was a daring quarterback who was a true river boat gambler. This led to some interceptions but even more daring touchdowns. He was old school yet enjoyed wine, women, and song out in the nightlife. He still came in and put in his work and teammates respected him and would follow him anywhere.

In 1973 Stabler completed an unheard of 62.7% of his passes, for 1,997 yards 14 TDs and 10 interceptions. The Raiders won the AFC West and got revenge on the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 33-14 win in the playoffs. The Miami Dolphins, on their way to back to back championships, beat them in the ’73 AFC Championship 27-10. Take a wild guess who was there to get revenge in the 1974 AFC Divisional Playoff?

 

Stabler ended the Dolphin dynasty with the touchdown to Clarence Davis in what became known as The Sea of Hands. One of the most famous games in NFL history.

Although the Raiders lost the AFC Championship the next two years to the rival Steelers, they came back in’76 with a vengeance. They recorded a 13-1 record and sought revenge on those Steelers yet needed another “Snake” come from behind miacle win in the AFC divisional round to get there.

 

1977-01-17 CoverThe Raiders would go on to win the AFC Championship 24-7 over Pittsburgh, then Super Bowl XI over Minnesota 32-14. He had guided the Raiders to that elusive championship in an era when it seemed they would be destined to always be the bridesmaid. He had several great performances left but becoming a champion was the ultimate.

In defending that championship in 1977, Stabler guided Oakland to a record 5th straight AFC Title game in Denver. They fell short 20-17 in getting to Super Bowl XII. How much did that have to do with the fatigue from the 6 quarter epic, Ghost To the Post 37-31 victory over the Baltimore Colts 1 week before??

 

Stabler’s Raider career was filled with great highlights and one important Super Bowl championship. In 1976 he had one of the greatest season a QB could have. He went 194 of 291 for 2,737 yards 27 TDs and 17 ints and an astonishing completion rate of 67.7% and a 103.4 passer rating. Remember this is a guy who extolled the Raiders philosophy of pressure football while throwing the ball deep.

However Stabler’s career wasn’t a series of statistics. He was one of the NFL’s most visible and recognizable personalities. He did make four Pro Bowls, was voted NFL MVP in 1974, was All Pro twice, and led the league in touchdown passes on 2 occasions. Furthermore,”The Snake” also was voted to the 1970’s NFL All Decade Team and finished with 194 TDs and 222 interceptions. A trade to the Houston Oilers after the 1979 season ended his stint  in Oakland. However he did go out with a bang:

 

Before his retirement in 1984, he did play for the late Bum Phillips twice in Houston and with the New Orleans Saints. Yet it was the magic he deftly showed out in Oakland that should have him in Canton. You can’t even pick out the best quarterback/receiver combo from the 1970s. Was it Stabler to Cliff Branch who should be in the Hall of Fame?? Would it be Stabler to TE Dave Casper who is in “the hall”?? No…it has to be the obvious in Stabler to Hall of Famer Fred Biletnikoff…right?? If all of his receivers are in and being considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame what does that make of the quarterback who helped get them there??

Unfortunately with his passing on Wednesday, we will have to lobby for Stabler to be enshrined posthumously.

For the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present Kenny “The Snake” Stabler

RIP Ken Stabler (December 25, 1945 – July 8, 2015)

Epilogue: 9, May 2019 When going through the pics and remembering the 2016 enshrinement weekend at the Hall, it was an emotional weekend. During the Gold Jacket Ceremony, one of the “Grandsnakes” came on the stage to receive Stabler’s Hall of Fame crest. Not only did we give a standing ovation, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Not in the section I was in.

halloffamecrest.stablerIt was impossible to not think how great Kenny would have enjoyed that weekend. He would have shared it with his family and would have definitely included his grandsons to which he was most proud of in everything he did.

Having been to two of the last three ceremonies it’s the stories, the celebrating of a player and a family’s legacy to this great game, and the camaraderie reveling in the accomplishment. The Raider family was out in force and came far and wide to celebrate his enshrinement. Yet the elephant in the room is we all felt cheated out of hearing from the man himself.

chancellor.hall

I wore a Jerry Kramer jersey into “The Hall” then removed it to reveal a Stabler shirt I picked up after the Gold Jacket ceremony.

For the record I do wish the PFHoF presented Stabler’s family with a ring and gold jacket.

It was bittersweet however its better that Ken Stabler’s Hall of Fame legacy is in Canton where it belongs and no longer being debated.

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The Soul of The Game: Jack Tatum

Jack Tatum, one of the NFL's hardest hitters ever.

Jack Tatum, one of the NFL’s hardest hitters ever.

When it comes to the soul of the game, purists like our CEO thinks of games being dominated by fierce and aggressive defense. One player that embodied that spirit was Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders. When his name is brought up it’s hard to not think of the unfortunate paralysis injury suffered by Darryl Stingley in 1978. However he was much more than that.  During the 1970’s he made the Oakland Raiders defensive secondary the forceful equivalent of the Pittsburgh Steelers front four.

The Raiders weren’t a great defense from a statistical standpoint. In fact their highest ranking against the pass during the 1970’s was 5th in 1975, and 8th in 1973. As a matter of fact the year the Raiders went 13-1, won Super Bowl XI & the Raiders were 22nd against the pass. However for a record 5 straight years (1973-1977) the Raiders made it to the AFC Championship Game and Jack Tatum was a main reason why.

It was his physical style of play the Raiders fed off of and his mentality became that of the Oakland Raiders defense. Even SS George Atkinson, who began his career as a corner with the Raiders in the late 1960s’, had Jack’s playing style rub off and become his style of play. Nowhere in football history were there ever more cases of “alligator arms” than there were going across the middle when Jack Tatum was on patrol. His hits were like car collisions.

One of his most famous hits occurred in what has been called the single greatest touchdown in NFL history, The Immaculate Reception. The famous Franco Harris touchdown with :22 left in the 1972 AFC Divisional Playoff the Steelers won 13-7. Initially on 4th and 10, Terry Bradshaw was trying to complete a pass to John “Frenchy” Fuqua when the ball and Tatum all arrived at the same time. NFL rules at the time didn’t permit a pass to be tipped by a receiver then caught by another receiver. Had that occurred the play would be ruled incomplete and penalized for “illegal touching”. The problem was it was so close you couldn’t call what happened from the naked eye.

When the Steelers were awarded the touchdown it touched off a bitter 5 year playoff rivalry and controversy over that play rages to this day. Tatum had another famous hit that you saw in the first video when he knocked Sammy White of the Vikings out in Super Bowl XI. It was the fourth quarter and the Vikings were forced to pass and the Raiders knew it. However, 11 months later in what would be John Madden’s last playoff game as coach of the Raiders, another Tatum hit was in the middle of another controversy. It was during the 3rd quarter of the 1977 AFC Championship with Oakland trailing the Denver Broncos 7-3. The Raiders had fumbled to put the Broncos in business inside the Raiders 20 yard line. Several plays later when it was 1st and goal with the momentum teetering toward the Denver sideline, Tatum comes through with a thunderous shot…

 

Another case of the Raiders coming up on the short end of the stick and was one of the reasons they lost 20-17. Although our CEO lived in Denver at the time and was cheering for the Broncos, he believes they were robbed. Rob Lytle clearly fumbled. Had they won they would have gone to Super Bowl XII with a chance to defend their Super Bowl title. They would have beaten Dallas and would have been crowned a dynasty had they made it there. Jack Tatum would play two more years with the Raiders before joining the Houston Oilers in 1980. He and quarterback Ken Stabler were traded to the Oilers to help Bum Phillips “Kick In The Door” which was the slogan used that year. Ironically they didn’t face Pittsburgh in the playoffs, instead they lost in Oakland to the Raiders in the 1980 AFC Wildcard Game 27-7. For his 10 year career, he did intercept 37 passes with a high of 7 in the lone year he played in Houston. Yet it was the fierce way he hit that brought Tatum his notoriety.

Epilogue: However fame and memory of his play has been purposely obscured by NFL Films selectively after the event where Darryl Stingley was paralyzed. For every fearsome defender that has come through the NFL, there are videos of these tough players, many of which we feature here, yet Tatum is a glaring omission. Contrary to popular belief he did try to see Darryl Stingley while he was in the hospital in Oakland but the family turned him away. John Madden chronicles it in one of his books. Former Ohio St teammate John Hicks said Stingley’s paralysis had an affect on Jack Tatum, saying he became a recluse.

Tatum would have looked sick in a black helmet.

Tatum would have looked sick in a black helmet.

He seemed to be be caught between the tough guy persona and the humanity that did lie within. He’s been quoted from his book They Call Me Assassin that “I like to believe that my best hits border on felonious assault.” Trying to capitalize on his bad boy persona since that was what he had to go off of in future years. We don’t know what was said to Jack Tatum by the Stingley family that night in that hospital. Yet defensive players using hyperbole to describe what they perceive as the perfect hit isn’t anything new. In the Soul of the Game article with Dick Butkus, he describes a scene from Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte. Where he describes how a decapitated head rolls down the stairs and he liked to project those things happening (to his opponent) on the football field.

In other writings and videos we celebrate the over the top intensity and meanness of an Ed Sprinkle, a “Bulldog” Turner, a Wilber Marshall, a Hardy Brown, a Cliff Harris, a “Mean” Joe Greene, a “Mad Dog” Mike Curtis, or what about the comments and actions of a one Jack Lambert?? None of these men were asked to apologize for the way they played nor should they have to. Well, neither should Jack Tatum. The question remains: Did  Jack Tatum handle the whole situation with Darryl Stingley the right way?? In my opinion he could have done more to make amends with him but it’s not up to me to be the complete judge on all that took place. Again we don’t know what was said between the Stingley family to him that fateful night. Understand I’m not trying to make the villain into the victim, but it’s high time that someone says something in Tatum’s defense. Quit treating him like a pariah, almost like he didn’t exist.

From THE Ohio State University, Jack Tatum!! RIP

From THE Ohio State University, Jack Tatum!! RIP

Ronnie Lott, Kenny Easley, Todd Bell, Dennis Smith, Dennis Thurman, Leonard Smith and the generation of NFL Safeties that came onto the scene as he was retiring patterned much of their game after his. On July 27, 2010, Jack Tatum passed away, but the way he played lives on as the generation who saw him play share memories of him with grandchildren like a Paul Bunyan type. There isn’t a lot of footage on him so the stories have to be told of how he was such a hitter. Well he was an intimidating performer and definitely a Soul of the Game defender.

Dedicated to the memory of Jack Tatum (November 18, 1948 – July 27, 2010)

RIP Darryl Stingley (September 18, 1951 – April 5, 2007)

RIP Rob Lytle (November 12, 1954 – November 20, 2010)

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