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Sunday, July 26, 2015

The case for the Snake

As those who follow my blog (and know me in real life) sometimes life gets crazy busy. But,  I wanted to take a moment off the beaten path and talk about the passing of man whose life was a legend in the NFL and sadly did not live to see his enshrinement in the NFL Hall of fame.

I'm talking about one man: The Snake, Kenneth Michael Stabler.

 The Snake played in one of if not the best eras of all of pro football. It was a time where the rules were no where near as restrictive as they are today. A time ruled by such team as the "Steel Curtain" Pittsburgh Steelers, the undefeated Miami Dolphins, the NFC has teams such as the Dallas Cowboys, the Purple "People Eater Defense" of the Minnesota Vikings and the "Over the Hill Gang" of the Washington Redskins. Then there were the next tier teams like the Browns, Patriots, Bills and Denver who were above average talent wise. In short this was time when there were teams that would DESTROY some of today's teams. A time where you could actually touch a QB or hit a receiver. 

Unto this stage came the winningest team in not only football, but from 1966 to 1985 the winnigest team in all of professional sports: The Raiders. And from 1972 to 1979 the man leading the Silver and Black offense was Ken Stabler. 

The Snake was the first left-handed QB who rose to real prominence in the NFL. The Snake was also known to call his own plays, to have a great command presence, and to know where to put the ball. He was also the QB with the fastest time to 50 wins, a QB other teams feared and fearless in the 4th Quarter.

But here is the rub: he is also the only QB of the All-Decades team- 1970s, NOT in the Hall of Fame, and one of only two players with that accolade, the other being Drew Pearson, WR of the Cowboys. Let that sink in. One of the best QBs of the decade when the NFL eclisped baseball as America's sport is not enshrined. What the Hell Hall of Fame?

The prevailing reason why he's not in is usually he only had a few good years in Oakland? What???? there are QBs I'll talk about in a minute who didn't have a single good season or even win a Super Bowl, yet they are in. To put it sustainably the sports hacks who vote on the Super Bowl are a bunch of idiots or worse.

Now people will talk of his mediocre to sub-par years in Houston and New Orleans. To me if Archie Manning is in playing for the hapless Saints of the 60s and 70s or the injury shortened career of Gayle Sayers allows him in the Ken should be in, let alone Joe Namath (see more below).

To get a sense of how good he was during his run with the Raiders, lets look at his time with the Raiders as a starter via his stats. While his stats look pedestrian today, keep in mind it wasn't until the late 1970s that the "Mel Blount Rule" was enacted.

Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD TD% Int Int% Lng Y/A AY/A Y/C Y/G Rate Sk
1973 28 OAK QB 12 14 11 8-2-1 163 260 62.7 1997 14 5.4 10 3.8 80 7.7 7 12.3 142.6 88.3 34
1974 29 OAK QB 12 14 13 11-2 178 310 57.4 2469 26 8.4 12 3.9 67 8 7.9 13.9 176.4 94.9 18
1975 30 OAK QB 12 14 13 10-3 171 293 58.4 2296 16 5.5 24 8.2 53 7.8 5.2 13.4 164 67.4 19
1976 31 OAK QB 12 12 12 11-1 194 291 66.7 2737 27 9.3 17 5.8 88 9.4 8.6 14.1 228.1 103.4 19
1977 32 OAK QB 12 13 13 10-3 169 294 57.5 2176 20 6.8 20 6.8 44 7.4 5.7 12.9 167.4 75.2 16
1978 33 OAK QB 12 16 16 9-7 237 406 58.4 2944 16 3.9 30 7.4 49 7.3 4.7 12.4 184 63.3 37
1979 34 OAK QB 12 16 16 9-7 304 498 61 3615 26 5.2 22 4.4 66 7.3 6.3 11.9 225.9 82.2 34

In his time in Oakland he went 68-25-1 as a starter. To put his playing time in career consider those of his contemporaries during a 10 year span of their careers: Ron Jaworski, Terry Bradshaw*, Steve McNair, Joe Namath*, Steve Grogan, Brian Sipe, Drew Bledsoe, Tony Romo, Ken Anderson, Randall Cunningham

The most notable is Kenny Anderson who was the FIRST West Coast Offense QB under Bill Walsh when Bill was the OC of the Bengals, but that's for another time. Two other names jump out: Bradshaw and Namath...The  others? He was as good, if not better.

Now its as simple as this, if Joe Namath is in the Hall of Fame there is no reason to keep the Snake out. Joe is in for guaranteeing a win in Super Bowl III, that's about it. "Joe Willie" was a big as they come, but outside of Super Bowl III he didn't do much including some dreadful seasons with the LA Rams, like Stabler's dreadful seasons with Houston and New Orleans. NOTE: I'm actually a fan of Broadway Joe, I am glad he conquered his demons, but Hall of Fame?

Consider Jim Kelly, QB of the Buffalo Bills from 1986-1996 who is in the Hall of Fame. And I ask for what? Losing four straight Super Bowls? For holding no passing records at his retirement, for having one of the most dismal playoff records of any QB in modern history? Simply put, Jim Kelly being in the Hall of Fame is a huge injustice to Stabler. Basically the Hall of Fame Voters are saying its a greater achievement to lose four straight Super Bowls then win one in what might considered the mostly highly competitive era the NFL has ever seen.

Every argument to keep him out has a precedence for someone who is in that I can think of in more detail:

Too short of a time where he was good: The knock is he "only" had 5 good years. Fortunately there is a precedence for this: see Gale Sayers, he's in the Hall of Fame. Gale was a phenomenal player who had basically two good seasons. As electrifying as they were he's marginal career wise. If you put him in whats the case for keeping out Terrell Davis? Ugh and I'm a Raiders fan saying that!

Didn't win enough Super Bowls: Dan Fouts, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly and Fran Tarkenton who are a combined 0-9 in Super Bowls (and Fouts never made it to a Super Bowl). All are in the Hall of Fame. Fouts is particularly puzzling because like Kelly he was a dismal playoff QB. At least the argument can be made that Fouts had no defense worth anything, unlike Kelly who actually had a very good D.

Tarkenton was 0-3 in the big game. He scrambled like crazy, and like Kelly he had a very good D so its largely moot from the excuse department. Tark held most of the QB passing records on his retirement so perhaps you can apply the "Dan Marino rule" as to why he is in.

The Snake on the other hand had the "misfortune" of playing at a time when the AFC had two other powerhouses in Miami and Steelers. Oh and look at that: Twice when the Steelers won the Super Bowl they had to beat the Raiders in the AFCCG to do it. Oh look in 1979 when the Steelers won the Super Bowl, who was the QB they faced in the AFC Championship Game? Ken Stabler.

Oh and one more point on this they made it to 5 straight AFC championship games against the likes of the Dolphins and Steelers with the winners going on to win the Super Bowl. "Jim Kelly lost 4  straight Super Bowls" that's at least better then the AFFCG loses I hear some wags say, Kelly didn't play teams anywhere near as good as the teams of the 1970s in the AFC championship games.

He was bad in New Orleans and Houston: Even Archie Manning was bad in New Orleans; they wouldn't become good for another 30 years after the Snake stopped playing for them. To lay that at Stabler's feet with no weapons around him? Oh and by the way? Manning is in the Hall of Fame despite never having a regular season better then 8-8 and having a dreadful TD to INT ratio as well?. Now his teams in New Orleans were terrible... but he sure didn't help. None of that has to do with the Snake. But to take another tack, Manning's career win/loss record is 35-101-3 and you get into the NFL Hall of Fame? Yeah... See Joe Namath above.

As far as Houston who did they have outside of Stabler, Earl Campbell and Dave Casper? Crickets... They peaked in 1980 and went downhill from there. Houston was a never quite made it team in the late 1970s.

His career stats particularly his TD to INT ratio is bad: Joe Namath is in for stats that are about even and Joe only had two winning seasons over his entire career.

Jim Kelly threw a rate of 1 INT once every 19.5 passes attempted in the post season which is downright horrific. Stabler has 194 TDs vs 222 INTs at a time when receivers and QBs could actually be hit.Stabler was a big time QB, Kelly was a big time dud.

Stabler was money in the playoffs Kelly threw a pick in 14 of his 17 playoffs starts...

He didn't win enough "Big Games": The Raider played against some of the greatest dynasties of all time during the Snake's time in the 70s at the helm of the Raiders: the a-fore mentioned Dolphins, Steelers, Skins, Cowboys, etc. Tom Brady would be crying in his Uggs or to the officials (more then he usually does) if Jack Lambert dared to hit him. But, Stabler was 1-0 in the Super Bowl. So which is it NFL Hall of Fame voters? Either a SB win matters or it doesn't. Oh that's right, you selectively apply criteria for one player then not for another. 

Until the injustice of his snub of the Hall of Fame is corrected the Hall will continue to be a joke, and even when I visit this upcoming August, I will be holding my nose. The vindictive sports writers who kept him out due to an incident "allegedly" involving Stabler and a reporter has no basis of proof, but the likes of Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated used this to foil Ken from making it in. I was only around 8 when this happened, but it seems to me that certain NFL writers (Zimmerman) with the "Ken Stabler will never make it into the Hall of Fame as long as I'm alive") quote on record should have never been in the position to decide or wield that much power. Stabler will long be remembered after people forget the douch-baggery of Paul Zimmerman.

To add further to his legend consider the some of the plays he was a part or his participation led to: the Immaculate Reception (or As we Raider fans call it the Immaculate Deception), the Holy Roller, Ghost to the Post, and the Sea of Hands. And to add further, while I can't stand Alabama he did have the Run in the Mud.

And way you slice it Ken Stabler was a QB for the ages. RIP Kenny. you will be missed, and you rode astride the NFL like a Colossus, towering over all. You'll get your due one day, too bad you weren't around to see it when the injustice is corrected.

To close, a video:

Postscript: My only personal bias regarding players or QBs are Kelly and Fouts. Kelly was/is massively overrated, and Fouts played for a division rival and was/is an ass-hat in regards to his announcing of Raiders games, hey I'm human. Gale Sayers, awesome player but HOF?