The Late Ken Stabler Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame
CANTON, Ohio — On a night of emotional speeches, the most poignant moment of the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday came after Ken Stabler was introduced and there were no words at all.
After a video tribute to introduce the legendary Raiders quarterback, his twin grandsons, 17-year-old Jack and Justin, joined teammate Fred Biletnikoff on stage accept his Hall of Fame bust.
Instead of a speech, there was simply the roar of the crowd.
The sustained ovation left family members dabbing tears from their eyes. And they were hardly alone.
“He were are. His final drive. And there’s a Snake in the Hall,” his daughter, Kendra Stabler Moyes, said later, fighting back emotion.
Stabler died July 8, 2015, at age 69, just a few months before voters decided, at last, to put him in the Hall of Fame. He died from complications resulting from Stage 4 colon cancer.
“He would always say, ‘You get knocked down, you keep getting up. And that’s what he did,’” Moyes, said after his presentation, in an interview broadcast for the capacity crowd at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
“He always got up and he always fought.”
For all the talk about Stabler’s toughness and swagger, it was clear on Saturday that fans had a soft spot for the Raiders renegade passer.
The four-time Pro Bowl selection played with both style and substance, and his induction video leaned heavily on clips of improbable scrambles and daredevil throws. Stabler was a colorful character in Silver and Black.
More than once, the footage was accompanied by the voice of the late Bill King thundering in the background, evoking a magical era of Oakland football.
“Whatever that thing was -- that focus, that concentration, that competitiveness -- he could just step it up a notch when you needed it,″ his former coach John Madden said in the introduction.
Madden is recovering from hip-replacement surgery and was unable to attend the ceremony. (As with the other official presenters, his comments were recorded for the video presentation.)
Together for nearly a decade, Madden and Stabler never had a losing season in Oakland. They reached their pinnacle during 1976 season, when the Raiders beat the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI.
In all, the native of Foley, Alabama, assembled a 96-49-1 record over his 15-year career in the NFL. His Raiders days lasted from 1970 to 1979, and Stabler still holds franchise records for wins, passing yards and passing touchdowns.
Moyes, the daughter, got a sense of this Hall of Fame moment even before the ceremony started. She looked around at the company on stage -- Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Roger Staubach -- and was overwhelmed by her father’s new company.
“Just to stand up and look in that front row and be, like ‘Wow,’ he did it,’” she said.
“And we feel the support and the love. To everybody who has come up to us in the past year, we’re so grateful and thankful.”
Stabler had a flair for the dramatic as a player, a trait he first showed in the 1972 playoff game best known for the Immaculate Reception.
Stabler replaced starter Daryle Lamonica in that game and led Raiders to what looked like the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter -- until Franco Harris’ spectacular catch and run won the game for Pittsburgh.
Still, there was no one Madden would rather have with the game on the line.
“I always said that if I could choose one quarterback to make a drive the length of the field at the end of the game ... that guy would be Ken Stabler, No. 12,” he said.
Stabler was the first quarterback after the AFL/NFL merger to take his team to five straight conference title games.
By ’76, Stabler led the league in passing, finishing with a 103.4 passer rating. Known for his hard-partying ways, he was no wild thrower. At the time his retirement after the 1984 season, Stabler’s 59.85 career completion ranked second all time.
The left-hander played with a supreme confidence, standing out even by the brash standards of the Raiders. Stabler once said: “I think inside of you there has to be something that makes the fire burn harder than others’.”
Or, as Chris Berman, the ceremony’s emcee, said: “To watch him play quarterback and look at him without a helmet, Ken Stabler was -- without a doubt -- an Oakland Raider.
“Al Davis said, ‘Just win, baby.’ And that’s exactly what he did.”
Stabler becomes the 17th member of the Raiders to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The others are Marcus Allen, Biletnikoff, George Blanda, Tim Brown, Willie Brown, Dave Casper, Al Davis, Ray Guy, Mike Haynes, Ted Hendricks, Howie Long, John Madden, Jim Otto, Art Shell, Gene Upshaw and Ron Wolf. Follow Daniel Brown on Twitter at twitter.com/mercbrownie