SAN FRANCISCO – Legendary Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That’s a good thing for his passionate, loyal fan base and many who believe justice was served Saturday when he was elected.
It’s also a disappointment he wasn't around to see the day. Stabler died from complications of colon cancer on July 8, 2015, just six months before his big moment.
His death also played a part in this election, renewing appreciation for a storied career that featured a Super Bowl XI victory and a 1974 NFL MVP award. He had a .661 winning percentage and led the Raiders to five straight AFC championship games.
Stabler’s death was a surprise, as he kept medical issues intensely private as his health worsened.
There are many who believe Stabler should have gotten into the Hall of Fame before this year, when his election was eased as a senior nominee. Before 2016, Stabler hadn’t been a finalist since 2003.
[RELATED: Stabler elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame]
That flummoxed many, especially those who knew him best.
“He should have been inducted a long time ago,” former Raiders defensive back George Atkinson said in quotes released by the Raiders. “It is too bad that it took long enough for him to have passed away to be inducted, especially when you consider that the same stats existed when he was alive. So yes, I think it’s a tragedy that he was not inducted when he was still alive, but at the end of the day, being accepted into the Hall of Fame is being accepted into the Hall of Fame. We viewed Kenny as a Hall of Famer in our eyes long before he got inducted, and I think that players who played against him feel the same way.”
Stabler’s grandsons were in San Francisco on Saturday night for his big night, and spoke on Ken’s behalf during a moment they called “bittersweet.”
Stabler will be introduced by Raiders head coach John Madden, who was recovering from a health issue and wasn’t present during Super Bowl week festivities in the Bay Area.
Stabler stories are too numbered, and at times too racy to tell in this space. But he was a clutch performer of the highest order.
“He was just that kind of person and when you were in a game with him that calm permutated throughout the entire team,” Raiders tight end Raymond Chester said. “They always talk about how great quarterbacks can have the game slow down for them and Kenny really demonstrated that with his cool and calm demeanor in tough situations. You felt like you were never out of a game and felt like you never lost a game with Kenny – you just ran out of time.”
Stabler had complete control of the Raiders offense back then, choosing plays to guide his offense to victory.
“His play calling, he was a chess player,” receiver Cliff Branch said. He used to call his own plays because back in those days we didn’t have an offensive coordinator, so I think that is what made him so successful. When Kenny got drafted by the Oakland Raiders, he was also drafted in Major League Baseball as a pitcher. He could locate his throws so well that it didn’t matter if you were covered, just like a pitcher painting the corners on the plate.”
Stabler was one of the best quarterbacks of his era, and his election into the Hall of Fame puts a deserving face into the league pantheon that represents the renegade 1970s Raiders well.
“I think it is long overdue,” Branch said. “He was a finalist in the early 2000’s twice and should have gone in then, but it is never too late.”