It was bad enough that the Pro Football Hall of Fame didn’t induct Ken Stabler until after he died and long after he was eligible. What made it worse was a petty policy enforced by officials of the Canton, Ohio, shrine at the ceremony.
Their snub was so awful that Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks thought it was important to speak out on behalf of Stabler’s family.
Ken Stabler belonged in the Hall of Fame long ago
The Oakland Raiders of the 1970s were the bad boys of the NFL, featuring heavy hitters on defense and an offensive cast whose collective attitude was that they would take what they wanted rather than what the opposing defense was giving.
Seven Raiders players from that era were already enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame by 1990. They included all-time greats Willie Brown, Art Shell, and Ted Hendricks – but not their leader on the field.
Ken Stabler was the Raiders’ starting quarterback from 1973-79, an era in which the running game mattered more than air attacks for the most successful NFL teams. But Stabler made the most of his opportunities, completing at least 57.4 percent of his attempts each season as a Raider and twice leading the league in touchdown passes.
Stabler finished his 15-year NFL career – he moved on to Houston and New Orleans after his Raiders days — with more interceptions (222) than touchdowns (194), but the stat that mattered most was his record. Stabler embraced the Al Davis motto of “Just win, baby” by going 69-26-1 as Oakland’s starter and 96-49-1 overall in the NFL.
Still, Stabler died in 2015 at the age of 69 without receiving a richly deserved honor.
Canton finally came calling, with a catch
Ken Stabler was selected to the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, in early 2016, more than six months after the former Oakland Raiders quarterback died and more than three decades after he retired. He was inducted in the summer of 2016 as part of a stellar class including quarterback Brett Favre, receiver Marvin Harrison, offensive tackle Orlando Pace, and coach Tony Dungy.
Even then, though, there was a final snub of the quarterback nicknamed “The Snake.” Under Hall of Fame policies, only living members receive the ring and gold jacket commemorating their selection, so Stabler’s family was denied what would have been treasured keepsakes.
The seemingly petty policy has also been applied to the likes of Hall of Famers Junior Seau and George Allen. Stabler’s longtime girlfriend said she was told the Hall of Fame enforced the policy because it didn’t want heirs fighting over the items or selling them. However, there is nothing stopping a living inductee from selling the ring and jacket.
The snub of Ken Stabler looks even worse now because of what transpired last year. Making an exception because the former Denver Broncos owner died after his election but before the ceremony, the Hall of Fame gave Pat Bowlen’s family the ring and jacket.
“David Baker and the Hall of Fame made the right decision, and I believe it opens the door to reconsidering awarding rings and jackets to the families of all deceased enshrinees,” Raiders owner Mark Davis said. “It opens the door to making it right for other families, like Junior Seau’s and Kenny Stabler’s.”
Tom Hanks took up the cause
The family of Ken Stabler received a boost from a Hollywood superstar after the story about the Hall of Fame jacket and ring was reported.
Tom Hanks, who was a longtime fan of the Raiders in Oakland, wrote a touching letter to Stabler’s daughters a month before the quarterback was elected to the Hall of Fame. In it, Hanks thanked them for giving him some of their father’s Raiders memorabilia.
“Your father, with his left-handedness and those two bad knees, displayed a permanent smile of bemusement that said — win or lose — ‘ain’t this fun,'” the two-time Academy Award winner for best actor wrote.
When he subsequently learned that only living inductees receive jackets and rings, Hanks went on Twitter to voice his disappointment. “No football HOF ring for The Snake’s family?” he tweeted. “That ain’t right. Throw deep, Baby.”
Hanks even used his time on the awards podium at the 2017 People’s Choice Awards to speak fondly of the quarterback, who was the league MVP in 1974 and guided Oakland to a Super Bowl victory after the 1976 season.