Saturday the Senior Selection Committee of the NFL will vote on whether Raider great Ken Stabler gets into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Even though it’s not life and death that he get in, it’s kind of a vindication for his family and friends and his fans all over for a career and a player that was never properly appreciated by the very sport he was so great in. For many it’s still something that eats at people for the injustice of it all, however big or small in the scheme of things.
A Year of Grief:
I’ll be blunt; last year sucked. Lots of things happened and it was so draining emotionally and physically for a lot of people. It was a very bad year for me personally as well, a year where you just want to live in a cave and not burden anyone. What didn’t help was all of the losses for the Oakland Raiders. Marv Hubbard, Charlie Sumner, Al LoCasale, Art Powell, just to name a few. And last but not least Ken Stabler. It got to be too much. Great people who helped create a dynasty of winning.
The other night a friend of mine called me and asked if I wanted to meet a friend of his. He was in the national media and he saw some of my writing and asked to meet me. Why anyone would want to meet me still blows me away but when they offered steak, all the Guinness and Bass I could drink and talking about sports, well I’m all in.
My history in the medical field with the east coast isn’t a good one, especially with New York Giants fans.
If you are a friend of mine, yes I will mess with you. I like doing ribs and jokes and sometimes I will go to extreme lengths. Well this was payback. We met at my friends house. My favorite Michael Franks and Earl Klugh tunes in the background, a cold glass of beer and steaks on the grill; life es bueno. The guy we will call “Matt” started asking questions about me and complimenting me on my work. He then asked me, “by the way, being in the Bay Area, isn’t it kind of ridiculous people think Ken Stabler should be in the hall of fame?” I stopped eating mid fork.
Here is my article on WHY Ken deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
I could see my friend trying not to laugh. A wry smile coming over him. I had played a lot of jokes on him over the years and this was a payback. He knew how I felt about Ken and here was someone from the east coast; probably another mainstream media person who is clueless to any sports story west of the Mississippi; asking me a question like that?”
I took a long cold drink of a black and tan and then picked up a glass of good Napa Pinot Noir and said calmly, “yes of course he should be in the HOF”.
I’m half German and half Spanish; two countries that tried to take over the world; so even though I’m not much of a hot head, I also don’t really like to keep quiet about things. I said lets sit down and go over why you think Ken Shouldn’t be in the Hall Of Fame. He pulled no punches & Neither did I.
Before we start for those who wonder, these are my reasons why Ken isn’t in the HOF yet.
- Sportswriter Set-Up.
Ok this is an east coaster; going below the belt in the first round. What he was talking about was the Bob Padecky story where Bob said that Ken had cocaine planted on his car years ago. Ken vehemently denied it and most felt his friend was the one that did it. The damage was done though. Sportswriters around the country banded together saying they’d never vote Ken in the HOF. Paul Zimmerman, or Dr. Z; the draft guru before Mel Kiper Jr.; one of the most powerful voices in football media in the early days of ESPN, said it on air.
I showed him my story and told him that even though Padecky still believes it, he’s told others to tell writers he would have no problem if Ken Stabler got into the HOF.
For those who want to know, here is my article on the incident with Bob Padecky.
- Last 4 years; Interceptions:
I love it; the guy knows his stuff. In his last 4 years Stabler had 42 touchdowns and 74 interceptions. He played for a Houston team that was not talented and who played the power I. It was conservative and based pretty much on giving Earl Campbell 40 carries a game. (and people wonder why he is in a wheel chair at times). For the Saints the years before Ken got there, they were 41-106; almost all of those years was with media darling Archie Manning. The Saints were the doormat of the NFL. Ken in his second year lead them to their best record ever.
Ken’s first year in Houston was his second best year as a pro leading the Oiler’s to their best record in their history up to then. After Ken left Houston, their record the next 5 years (one is strike shortened) was 16-57. These were 2 terrible teams that Ken made much better with his skill, something no sportswriter ever talks about.
Some of his detractors say Ken wasn’t good long enough, which is a crock. Roger Staubach only had 85 wins in his career. Terry Bradshaw 107. Bob Griese only had 92. Ken was 100-50 but his career was too short? Not long enough? Sure didn’t bother committee voters to vote those players in. Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.
Ken was the fastest QB to get to 100 wins and in his first 62 games he was an inhuman 50-12 as a starter. In their first 20 Monday Night Football games the Raiders were 18-1-1; many with Ken as QB. My only question to my east coast friend when asking why Ken isn’t a HOF is why are we even questioning this? The 1970’s was the greatest era of football and Ken had the most wins as a starter and was the best QB in that era with a Super Bowl win and a league MVP.
Ken remains the ONLY QB in NFL history that lead his team to playing in 5 straight conference championships. He was probably the greatest 2 minute drill QB in history. I don’t even know why I have to say these things really. Even writing this I’m getting frustrated. “I was not the best QB of the 1970’s”, stated Pittsburgh Steeler great and HOF QB Terry Bradshaw. “It was Ken Stabler; Ken was better than I was.”
As most men do when they get into their twilight years, they patch up differences. Frank Cooney; former San Francisco Examiner writer who covered the Raiders during the glory years, is in charge of presenting Ken’s case to the members of the Senior Selection Committee. He said in 2009 that Ken met with Raiders owner Al Davis. They buried the hatchet and Al admitted that he was one of the main reasons Ken was not in the HOF. Al’s venom to players like Ken and Marcus Allen; players he felt crossed him; was of legend and was vile and vicious and Al actually spoke against Ken. In the end, it was a good thing they met with all of the bad blood that they had ever since he traded Ken to the Oilers for overrated but strong armed Dan Pastorini.
The last time Al was at the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony, he was interviewed and admitted that one of his big regrets in life was not doing more to get Raider players in the HOF. Many teams actually hired advertising and PR agencies to promote their players. Al admitted they didn’t do anything and it was a wrong that needed to be righted.
Also to their credit, Ken met with Bob Padecky, the sports writer that to this day feels Ken had him set up. They did make up though when Ken was @ Infineon Raceway in Sonoma when Bob covered the event which Bob wrote about years ago. In a recent article, Bob has said he also reached out to Frank Cooney and again said to tell the sportswriters that if they want Ken in the HOF that he was all for it.
Two Minute Drill:
For Ken Stabler’s family and friends this week seems like an eternity. I’m so glad though the younger daughters have seen who Ken was and what he meant to so many. I’m sure they don’t want to build up their hopes up too high. Let’s be honest; the Raiders are the Doc Holiday of pro football and no one ever cries over the bad guy. We don’t need vindication from the NFL HOF to tell us what we already know, but it would be nice.
What fans and loved one’s of Ken’s doesn’t want is charity. We don’t want you to vote Ken in because you feel bad that he’s no longer here. We don’t want sympathy; we want sports justice. Ever since Al Davis was blind sided by the AFL & NFL during the merger, the Raiders have been the pirates of the sports world. As Al Davis, Ron Wolf, John Madden & Ken used to always say; we don’t take what the opponents give us, we take what we want. And what we want is for Ken’s amazing career to finally be rewarded.
As Saturday’s vote is looming, it’s down to the wire. I picture in a video Bill King’s voice booming loud and poetically describing the scene like a piece of art. Ken is giving us one last two minute drill; a miracle drive against the Patriots in the Playoffs. Picture John Madden losing his mind during a time out, while Ken is looking into the crowd seeing who is actually at the game and viewing what the fans are doing. The enclosed Oakland Coliseum as loud as a freight train. While others are anxious with stress Ken is the Snake. Cool as ice.
One more Sea of Hands game; another miracle in San Diego with a Holy Roller; one more last second come from behind drive where no one but Raider fans and players gave them a chance. Ken used to say to his teammates, just leave time on the clock and I’ll take care of the rest. Throw deep.
And as the final vote is tallied maybe it’s right that it goes down to the wire; with so many on pins and needles, I believe they will Vote Ken into the HOF. And as we all celebrate with bittersweet laughter and tears, I picture Ken with a sly smile jogging off the field giving us all a wink. With a southern smile he tells us we had this all along but in reality it doesn’t change any of us or diminish anything that he accomplished, or lessen the relationships that were made.
But in reality the Pro Football Hall of Fame Voters still don’t get it. But we get it in Alabama. We get it in Phoenix Arizona. We get it in Oakland and everywhere else that the average football fan resides. And every peer that he played with or against that is supporting Ken for the highest honor gets it. In reality the HOF pales in comparison to why so many love him and that is something you can never take away. Ken Stabler; Hall of Famer in the greatest game of all; life. How innocent were those times; how rich we are to have known them.