There are Lions and Bears in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as well as Eagles, Rams and Cardinals. There should have been a Snake in there, too – a long time ago.
Former Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler, "The Snake," died Thursday at the age of 69 having never been elected to the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. His failure to garner enough votes over the years to be inducted was hard to comprehend for Bay Area and NFL fans who watched Stabler lead Oakland to a dominating decade in the 1970s.
The Raiders never had a losing season with him behind center.
As the Raiders starting QB from 1973 to 1979, Stabler was the charismatic lefty who came up big in clutch situations. He guided 19 fourth-quarter comebacks, 26 game-winning drives and the championship of Super Bowl XI. He was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1974.
“I’ve often said, if I had one drive to win a game to this day, and I had a quarterback to pick, I would pick Kenny,” said John Madden, the head coach of the Raiders during that era. “Snake was a lot cooler than I was. He was a perfect quarterback and a perfect Raider.”
There are the stats, of course, that speak for him. Twice he led the NFL in touchdown passes, TD percentage and completion percentage. In 1976 he led the NFL in yards passing and had a league-leading quarterback rating.
When he retired after the 1984 season, he had the second-highest completion percentage in NFL history (59.8 percent), behind only Joe Montana. The game was different then, when defenses could play bump-and-run and completions were tough to come by. How different is today’s era? Well, Stabler now ranks 36th in completion percentage.
But numbers don’t tell the whole story of what a quarterback and leader he was. He was the cool customer who would hang in the pocket to hit Dave Casper or Fred Biletnikoff when a big pass was needed. On a team with Hall of Famers such as Biletnikoff, Casper, Madden, Art Shell, Jim Otto, Willie Brown and Gene Upshaw, Stabler was the man who made the offense work. From 1970 to ’79 he threw 150 touchdown passes.
Wrote ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson: “Stabler was the face of one of the most unforgettable teams in NFL history. He has a Super Bowl ring. He did it with style and he was part of the fabric of the NFL’s golden age. He was the Snake and should live in football immortality.”
That his induction to Canton never came during his lifetime is a shame. But it’s a mistake that can be rectified.
Three times, Stabler has been a finalist in NFL Hall of Fame voting, and three times he hasn’t made the cut.
It’s time for Hall of Fame voters to stand up for The Snake.