(Stanfel photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions)
(Stabler photo courtesy of the Oakland Raiders)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Well, it’s about time. OK, it’s past time.
Three decades after his retirement and six weeks after his death, former quarterback Ken Stabler is on the fast track to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Stabler and former offensive guard Dick Stanfel on Wednesday were nominated as candidates for the Class of 2016 by the Hall’s seniors committee.
That doesn’t mean they’re in. What it does mean is that if they gain 80 percent of the vote of the Hall’s 46 selectors in February, they’re where they belong.
In the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
For both, it’s long overdue. Stabler was a three-time finalist who didn’t make it. Stanfel is the first three-time candidate proposed by the seniors committee. There have been six senior candidates brought back a second time, with four of them making it. Stanfel was last voted down in 2012.
Bu there's something else Stabler and Stanfel have in common: Both were all-decade members, and both passed away this summer – with Stanfel dying in June and Stabler in early July.
Stabler’s death produced an outpouring of emotion, with several former players and coaches pushing his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and wondering why it hadn’t happened earlier. As the Talk of Fame Network predicted at the time, there was going to be increased pressure on the Hall’s seniors committee to take action on the former Oakland great … and on Wednesday it responded.
That’s not to say that Stabler’s nomination was a sympathy vote. It wasn’t. But his death provoked voters to re-think why he isn’t in Canton … and, frankly, it’s hard to produce an answer. One of the most successful quarterbacks of the 1970s he was at his best when big games were on the line – with Stabler front and center with late-game heroics in the 1974 playoff defeat of Miami (“Sea of Hands”) and the 1977 playoff defeat of Baltimore (“Ghost to the Post”) in double overtime.
“When we were behind in the fourth quarter with our backs to the end zone,” said Hall-of-Fame guard Gene Upshaw, “no matter how he had played up to that point, we could look in his eyes, and you knew … you knew … he was going to win it for us. That was an amazing feeling.”
So he had 28 more career interceptions than touchdowns. Big deal. It was a different era, with vertical passing games, physical play on the outside between receivers and defensive backs and quarterbacks measured more by success than passer ratings. And when it came to success, few surpassed Stabler, who won nearly 72 percent of his starts with the Raiders.
But that’s not all. He produced his first 100 victories faster than anyone up to that point – breaking Johnny Unitas’ record of 153 games. Stabler did it in 150, and, since then, only three others bettered him – Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Tom Brady.
“If you just look at how he played,” Hall-of-Fame coach John Madden said of Stabler, “he’s a Hall-of-Fame quarterback. We get caught up today in statistics and comparing statistics, and you can’t do that with different eras.”
Stabler and Stanfel bring the total of candidates proposed by the seniors committee to 56 since its formation, with 35 of them offensive players, 15 defenders, four coaches, one special teamer and one owner.
Stanfel's choice is something of a surprise because he was passed over by the board's selectors only three years ago. But the seniors committee has a conviction about him, and it should. Stanfel was such a dominant offensive lineman that he was chosen to the All-Pro team in five of his seven pro seasons and won two NFL championships.
Moreover, despite playing only three seasons with the Washington Redskins, he was named in 2002 as one of the franchise’s 70 greatest players. Impressive? There’s more. In 1953, when the Detroit Lions won the NFL championship, he was named the team’s MVP. Now think about that: A guard was named as the team’s top player.
“That will probably never happen again for an offensive lineman,” Stanfel later said of his award. “That was a different time.”
Hopefully, this is, too. Ken Stabler and Dick Stanfel have been passed over by the Hall's selectors before. In fact, they’ve been passed over multiple times. Here’s hoping that trend ends in February.