By Josh Dubow
AP Sports Writer
OAKLAND, Calif. — Ken Stabler built a Hall of Fame career on moments more than raw numbers.
Stabler threw more interceptions than touchdowns, completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes, and posted a quarterback rating of 90 or better just twice in 15 NFL seasons.
Yet Stabler was the offensive leader of the great Oakland Raiders teams of the 1970s, helping the team win its first Super Bowl and make it to four other conference championship games in a five-year span.
“Sometimes we forget how smart Kenny Stabler was,” his former coach John Madden said. “He was a brilliant quarterback with a brilliant football mind. He would set things up. There’s a thing that they don’t even judge anymore, called field general. Ken Stabler was a true field general. The offensive players really believed and followed him. Anything that came out of his mouth, they totally believed.”
Madden called the shaggy-haired Stabler, whose wild style on the field and off helped earn him the nickname “The Snake,” the perfect Raider. Madden said if he had one drive to win a game and could choose any quarterback who ever played to lead it, Stabler would be his choice.
“The hotter the game, the hotter I got, and Kenny was truly just the opposite; the hotter the game, the cooler he became,” Madden said.
That calm demeanor helped Stabler play a key role in some of the NFL’s most famous moments — so much so they are universally known by their nicknames.
Stabler scored the go-ahead touchdown in the “Immaculate Reception” playoff game against Pittsburgh in 1972 that ended with Franco Harris’ improbable touchdown and a Steelers victory.
His late TD pass that Clarence Davis caught in a “Sea of Hands” helped knock out two-time defending champion Miami the next season. Stabler’s late “Ghost to the Post” pass to Dave Casper in the 1977 playoffs helped force overtime against Baltimore in a game Oakland finally won in the second extra period.
And his heady play to fumble forward in the closing seconds of a regular-season game against San Diego in 1978 led to a touchdown by Casper on a play forever known as the “Holy Roller” that led to a rule change the following season.
“The cat was a cool, calm and collected guy,” said his former receiver Cliff Branch. “He was a chess player on the football field and he put people in checkmate in a minute on the defensive end.”
The only thing missing when Stabler is inducted into the Hall of Fame on Aug. 6 will be Stabler himself. The honor comes just over a year after he died in July 2015 died at age 69 from complications of colon cancer. Stabler also suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a form of repetitive brain trauma, according to his family.
“I told my wife, we’ll just dig him up and prop him in a chair at the Hall of Fame so he can enjoy it,” said former Raiders receiver Fred Biletnikoff. “I’m excited about it. I can’t wait to go back there this year and go through that whole process and watch the excitement in his family’s face.”
Stabler was elected in February by the Seniors Committee as the capper to a career that started when he was a second-round draft pick out of Alabama and the second quarterback selected by the Raiders after Eldgridge Dickey in the 1968 draft.
After spending most of his first four seasons as a backup. Stabler became the starter in 1973. He was the NFL MVP in 1974, then won the Super Bowl following the 1976 season as he put the Raiders right up alongside Pittsburgh and Miami as the class of the AFC.
Stabler is the Raiders’ all-time leader in yards passing and TD passes. He finished his 15-year career with Houston and New Orleans, but will most definitely remembered as a Raider.
It took his death last summer for Stabler to get another shot at the Hall of Fame honor his teammates believe was long overdue.
“I always believed that Kenny should have been in the Hall of Fame before,” Biletnikoff said. “I know it’s a tough process for guys to get into the Hall of Fame. I was always disappointed that his name wasn’t brought up to the top year after year. I know it was there, but it was never a big factor. This year with that happening, I love it. I know it means the world to his family.”