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Memorable plays during Raiders days puts Ken Stabler on doorstep of Hall of Fame

Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler looks for room

Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler looks for room under pressure from Denver Broncos linebacker Randy Gradishar during an NFL game in Oakland, Calif. on Oct. 31, 1976. Credit: AP / Jim Palmer

Maybe it was all about timing. Ken Stabler played in an era dominated by Terry Bradshaw and Bob Griese.

Maybe it was all about location. Stabler might have been in the wrong place. He played on the "Left Coast," as Easterners say with a sneer.

Maybe that's why he's not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But whenever and wherever he played, he was a great quarterback.

A quarterback involved in 1970s Oakland Raiders plays so famous that they had names: "Sea of Hands," "Ghost to the Post" and "Holy Roller," all of which contributed to victories.

A quarterback who helped get the Raiders their first NFL championship, a 32-14 win over the Vikings in Super Bowl XI.

Hall of Famer John Madden, his coach at the time, has said Stabler -- who died Wednesday of colon cancer at 69 -- belongs in the Hall. And he isn't alone.

Former Raiders tight end Dave Casper said in Paul Zimmerman's "The New Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football" that Stabler knows "everything there is to know on a football field. But when they give him a game plan on Wednesday, he probably takes it and throws it in the wastebasket."

Stabler followed Joe Namath at Alabama (with Steve Sloan in between and playing with both). Namath, from the Pittsburgh suburbs, became "Broadway Joe" with the Jets. Stabler returned to his Gulf Coast way of life, fried oysters, pitchers of beer and a girlfriend who called herself "Wickedly Wonderful Wanda."

In the 1970s, Stabler was backing up Daryle Lamonica and the Raiders' offense was ineffective. An impatient Stabler told me he could get things moving. The next morning, our headline across the top of the San Francisco Chronicle sports page virtually shouted, "I can get TDs -- Stabler." Owner Al Davis and Stabler loved it. And after taking over, he did what he promised.

"Sea of Hands" was the Dec. 21, 1974, playoff game against the Dolphins in which Stabler escaped tacklers and hurled a pass into the end zone in the dying seconds that was grabbed from defenders by Clarence Davis.

"Ghost to the Post" was the 42-yard pass to Casper -- who was known as "Ghost,'' as in "Casper the Friendly Ghost'' -- that enabled Oakland to kick a field goal in overtime and beat the Baltimore Colts in a Dec. 24, 1977, playoff game.

And "Holy Roller" -- a joking reference to the Steelers' "Immaculate Reception" -- came in a 1978 game at San Diego. With the Raiders trailing and time about to expire, Stabler, being tackled, intentionally fumbled the ball forward. It was batted and swatted into the end zone, where Casper grabbed it for the winning touchdown.

The NFL swiftly amended the rules to stipulate that any fumble occurring in the final two minutes of each half or on fourth down can be advanced only by the offensive player who fumbled the ball. Some call it "The Ken Stabler Rule.''

Madden spoke Friday of Stabler's credentials. "We had great rivalries with the Miami Dolphins, who were one of the greatest teams in NFL history, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who also were one of the best," he said.

"Terry Bradshaw is in the Hall, Bob Griese is in the Hall. And look at Kenny's record when he played those teams."

We looked. Stabler went 8-6 against those teams while with Oakland. But he's not in the Hall.

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