Why the NFL Hall of Fame needs to enshrine Kenny Stabler in 2016.
"The Autumn Wind is a Raider..."
There's no question that despite 15 cringe-worthy seasons, the NFL's Oakland Raiders are one of the most polarizing franchises in all of sports.
The logo? Instantly recognizable.
The jerseys? Shamelessly imitated.
The history? Second to none.
You read that right. The history.
You wouldn't know it from the way the franchise has been represented for much of the millennium, but the Oakland Raiders have one of the richest histories in the entire NFL.
First off, when you look at the rosters, it's not hard to find some familiar names.
In fact, 24 hall of fame players have donned the Silver and Black over the last 60 years.
Names like Marcus Allen, Gene Upshaw, Howie Long, and yes, John Madden, represent the Raiders in the Hall.
We'll get back to the Raiders and the hall in just a second.
Because as Peyton Manning can tell you, individual achievements are nice, but it's all about the ring.
Since the merger in 1970, they Oakland Raiders have won three Super Bowls.
The Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Cincinnati Bengals, San Diego Chargers, Carolina Panthers, and Minnesota Vikings can't even lay claim to one Lombardi trophy.
In all reality, only the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, and New England Patriots have more!
Though there's something that separates the Raiders from all of those franchises.
Obviously you can't take anything away from those excellent teams.
The Steel Curtain and those unforgiving defenses of the 70's.
Cool Joe and Jerry Rice changing how teams play defense forever in the 80's.
Troy, Emmitt, and Michael grinding out a dynasty in the 90's.
From Bart Starr to Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers, a legacy of franchise quarterbacks in title-town.
And not even a bitter Raiders fan like myself can deny that guy in Boston is pretty "tucking" special. You can try and deflate his legacy, but at the end of the day, the proof is in the film.
Can't deny that all of those guys committed to excellence.
But none of them played with as much excellence as my Raiders.
How do I define the "swagger" that defines the history of my Oakland Raiders?
WAIT. Hold on.
Now, how does one define the aforementioned "swagger" that defines my Oakland Raiders?
In a time when most of the NFL was very professional and clean cut... The Raiders weren't.
They didn't pander to the camera like Joe Namath.
They didn't spread the word of God like Roger Staubach.
And they certainly didn't prance around in a suit and tie like Hank Stram.
It's hard to sum up what made the Raiders of the 70's and 80's so special.
It was a different time.
The players weren't making tens of millions of dollars.
There wasn't Instagram or Twitter connecting them to millions and millions of eager eyes.
This was a time when people played because either they loved the game or because they just wanted to hit people.
In a time where fantasy football was played in the back yard, and helmet-to-helmet was a playing style, the players who were considered "too old" or "not good enough" by other teams, caught a second wind... an "autumn wind" wearing the Silver and Black.
They were the misfits.
Defensive end, Otis Sistrunk proudly represented "University of Mars".
John Matuszak's girlfriend once drove onto the field during practice and tried to run him over.
George Blanda had thrown more interceptions than touchdowns for the five years before signing with the Raiders, including 42 in 14 games in 1962.
Al Davis lived and died by the slogan, "Just Win, Baby".
He didn't care who, or even what he fielded every Sunday, just as long as they gave his team the best chance to win. The Raiders roster was comprised almost completely of rejects and deviants, and chief among them was a southpaw gunslinger from Alabama named Kenny Stabler.
From the minute Kenny Stabler started playing sports, he was exceptional.
In high school, Stabler was a team captain in Basketball (where he averaged 29 points a game), an exceptional pitcher for the Baseball team (good enough to warrant contract offers from the Yankees and Astros), and an outstanding quarterback on the football team (losing only one game during his high school career).
He was touted as Joe Namath's replacement at Alabama, but to some, his career there was underwhelming.
His statistics didn't blow anyone anyway, and he never delivered a National Championship as a starter, despite being on the roster for two.
Though, a trend developed here that would follow for the rest of Stabler's career.
His numbers weren't great.
He didn't bring home a handful of titles.
But he almost always found a way to win.
Against one of Alabama's most hated rivals, Auburn, Stabler and the Tide found themselves down 3-0 early in the fourth quarter.
With torrential rain falling from the sky, young Kenny Stabler took an option play 53 yards in terrible conditions for the go ahead touchdown in a play that is now lovingly known as "The Run in the Mud".
It would be the first of several "name games" for the Snake.
But they would have to wait.
Much like Stabler did during the 1968 draft.
In a very unusual twist, not only was Stabler not the first quarterback taken, he wasn't even the first quarterback taken by the Raiders.
With the 25th overall pick, the Raiders selected quarterback Eldridge Dickey.
This was actually a very controversial pick, because despite making Dickey the first african-american quarterback ever taken in the first round, he never took a snap at the position.
Eldridge, like Michael Vick, Randall Cunningham, Tim Tebow, and Terrelle Pryor after him, he was taken because of freak athleticism for the position.
While Eldridge was moved to receiver and faded into obscurity, Stabler rode the bench and watched the end of Daryle Lamonica's career.
It's ironic that Stabler would end his college career in a name with a game, only to begin his pro career with one.
Late in a 1972 playoff game against their bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Raiders put Stabler in to relieve Lamonica, down 6-0.
With 1:17 left in the game, Stabler took off on a 30 yard touchdown run, similar to the one against Auburn three years prior, giving the Raiders a late lead.
Of course, any NFL historian knows where this is going.
On a fourth and blah blah blah, the Steelers cheated and won the game.
I told you I was bitter.
In all seriousness, Stabler made his presence known in the NFL world, despite it being in a losing effort in an "immaculate" game.
After that, it came pretty easy for the Snake.
Over the next four years, Stabler and sure-handed Fred Biletnikoff, speedy Cliff Branch, and perhaps the greatest offensive line in the history of the sport compiled a 45-10 record, including four division titles, and a Super Bowl victory. During that span, Stabler would toss for 83 touchdowns, 9,499 yards, play in three pro bowls, be named first team all-pro twice, and win both Offensive Player of the Year, and Most Valuable Player trophies in 1974.
But it wasn't just the success that Stabler and the Raiders had during what was most definitely the peak of his career that made the Snake such a legend.
It was the way he did it.
Stabler, much like his predecessor at Alabama, had a bit of a night life.
Or rather, he had a bit of a day life.
Stabler was known to be out all night at bars getting into all sorts of trouble, with all sorts of women.
If John Madden was the warden of an insane asylum, Stabler was the most dangerous inmate. If the Raiders were a cuckoo's nest, Stabler was Randle McMurphy.
Kenny Stabler did things on a nightly basis that would make Josh Gordon and Johnny Manziel blush.
In today's NFL, a player like Kenny Stabler would make Roger Goodell abandon his cozy salary and go kicking and screaming into the night.
Kenny was a wild, wild man off the field, and he was no different on it.
While nowhere near as polished as today's field generals, Stabler personified "Just Win, Baby".
A late desperation pass to Dave Casper, setting up a game-tying field goal gave us "Ghost to the Post".
Scrambling and frantically lobbing a duck to Clarence Davis, who "couldn't catch a cold" in the end-zone, being covered by three Dolphins players gave us "The Sea of Hands."
With ten seconds left, Snake and the Raiders were down by six on the 14 yard line against the hated San Diego Chargers. Stabler knew he was in trouble as the pocket collapsed around him. In a moment of either pure genius or dumb luck, the Snake fumbled the ball forward, immediately being crushed by four Charger defenders. The ball happily bounced towards the endzone until runningback, Pete Banaszak "attempted" to pick the ball up, prodding it towards Dave Casper, who "clumsily" recovered it in the endzone to give us "The Holy Roller".
Those games summed up the Raiders.
They weren't pretty, and they certainly didn't win pretty.
They weren't wholesome like Staubach, and America's Team.
They weren't Hollywood like Namath, his damn guarantees.
They were slippery, nasty, and determined to win.
Just like the Snake.
So... I pose the question...
How can you have a NFL Hall of Fame without Kenny Stabler?
It's a question that has been asked for the last thirty years by confused members of the Raider Nation.
Here are the most popular answers.
"The NFL has a vendetta against the Raiders, it's a conspiracy!"
As silly as it sounds, I've actually written a hub about this before. It's worth a read.
"Stabler wasn't all that good"
I hate that argument.
I despise that argument.
That argument needs to go hang out with all the San Diego Super Bowl trophies.
Stabler wasn't all that good?!
How do you figure?
Because he was only elite for a short period of time?
Because he didn't have Peyton-esque statistics?
Let's test that theory.
Over Stabler's career, he threw for 27,938 yards, 194 touchdowns, and 222 intercetions.
I'll admit, not the prettiest statline.
But then again, it was a different era. People ran different offenses against different defenses with different expectations.
So let's compare him to another quarterback from that era.
One who did make the Hall of Fame.
One who had a very similar night life.
Cool Joe Namath, right?
I mean, Joe is considered one of the NFL's greatest players.
If I had a dollar for every time I've heard Joe Namath guarantee that he and his Jets would beat the Colts in the Super Bowl, I could buy the NFL Network and destroy that footage forever.
Tell me this.
If Joe partied just as much as Stabler, why is he in the Hall despite throwing for fewer yards and fewer touchdowns?
Neither guy was a statistical wizard, but Stabler clearly has the edge.
And I know, everyone loves the aforementioned guarantee, but I just described several games in history that Stabler was a part of.
If only Stabler had been more vocal about how badly his Raiders would beat the Vikings in the Super Bowl, or perhaps played in a bigger market, he could've been given the same treatment as Joe.
"Stabler's off the field stuff was... too much"
Snake liked to party.
Maybe he partied too much, and maybe he partied too hard.
But unless we're gonna beat around the bush some more, there's one truth that stands above the rest.
Stabler hated the media.
He refused to talk to reporters, he didn't like to do interviews, and... well... he did get a reporter arrested one day.
At the end of the day, the biggest problem with the Pro Football Hall of Fame is that the inductees are chosen by members of the media.
Who does or does not get a bust in Canton is decided by a room full of people who have never played a single down in the NFL.
But, if we're going to play the game, I'll play devil's advocate.
Maybe we shouldn't have people with... questionable personal lives in the Hall of Fame.
Maybe being a Hall of Famer is a privilege, not a right.
So guys like Lawrence Taylor, Michael Irvin, and OJ Simpson should be kicked out right?
Lawrence Taylor has a section on his Wikipedia page labeled "Legal Troubles" featuring everything from drug charges to an underage prostitute, and Michael Irvin has been charged with drug abuse as many times as he abused defensive backs in the 90's.
Do I really have to bring up why OJ Simpson joins this special club?
I get the argument though. It's called being "immortalized" for a reason. Once you're in, you're in for good.
What about Ray Lewis?
Compare the legal troubles of Ray Lewis and Kenny Stabler and you tell me which one is worse.
I don't wanna hear about "convictions" because Stabler wasn't convicted for the things keeping him out of the NFL either.
If perception is reality, and that perception is enough to keep an NFL icon out of the Hall of Fame, please explain to me how someone who is perceived as a murderer is a couple of years from being a first ballot inductee?
The truth is, Stabler didn't like the media, and the media didn't like Stabler.
In fact, it was a quote about Stabler that made me realize just how corrupt the Hall of Fame voting process is.
When asked about Stabler's relationship with the media on NFL Network's "Top Ten Players that aren't in the Pro Football Hall of Fame", voter Paul Zimmerman said "Ken Stabler never gets my vote as long as I'm alive".
What a sickeningly unprofessional thing to say.
What a terrible way to think.
Sadly, Kenny Stabler didn't live to see his hard work recognized.
On July 8th, 2015, Kenny Stabler passed away from Colon Cancer.
He passed in his home, surrounded by his loved ones, listening to "Sweet Home, Alabama".
Now, from what I can gather about The Snake, I don't think he cared all too much if he was in the Hall of Fame.
He didn't care for the media when he played, and as he grew old with his wife and three daughters, I don't think he cared about much but them, his whiskey, and Alabama Football.
Now that he's gone, something terrible has happened.
Not just that Stabler didn't get to live to see his likeness immortalized, but that the people who locked him out of the Hall of Fame have dramatically changed their tune.
The same people who would whisper seethingly about Stabler and his antics a week ago chuckle and ramble about how charming it was now.
The day after he passed, the same network that shared that ugly Zimmerman quote dedicated the whole day to the Snake.
I don't know where Paul Zimmerman was when he heard the news, probably trying harassing Dorothy and her family about their dog, but I imagine even he tried to change his tune, overwhelmed by guilt.
While I'm sure Stabler's family appreciates the sympathy, and it is nice to be able to watch all of these classic Raider moments, the voters can't undo the damage they've done.
All they can do now is make amends.
The 1976 Super Bowl Champion Raiders are considered by many to be the very best team that ever played, and as the quarterback of that team, as well as the man I've spent the last hour researching and describing...
Kenny Stabler must be part of the 2016 NFL Hall of Fame class.
He embodies the spirit of one of the most iconic franchises in all of sports, and his legacy needs to be cemented in Canton with the rest of the all-time greats.
As far as I'm concerned, the building that stands in Canton, with it's Odell Beckham Jr jersey and Joe Namath section, is nothing but a NFL gift shop until they lay the Snake to rest.
Thank you for reading.