|Posted on June 24, 2018 at 6:40 PM|
Photo credit: Sports Illustrated (December 1967)
In the 1960s and 1970s, Roman Gabriel was one of the most dominant, productive and durable quarterbacks in the NFL. Facing some of the toughest defenses of any era, competing against some of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history (Unitas, Starr, Tarkenton)—Gabriel left his mark on the game and retired with a resume worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Living in an age of recency bias and an inability by most to understand statistics from past generations, many might scoff at Gabriel’s 201 career touchdown passes, which currently rank him 41st in NFL history—below Jay Cutler’s 227 and Matt Hasselbeck’s 212.
Judging a quarterback’s raw passing statistics without adjusting for era is akin to saying the original Macintosh wasn’t as good of a computer as a $99 laptop from Walmart today because the original Macintosh didn’t have internet access.
Comparing quarterbacks from all generations is what I do—adjusting for era to level the playing field for everyone. Why? Because I’m not convinced that Kerry Collins (40,922 career passing yards) was a better quarterback than Joe Montana (40,551 career passing yards). Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger currently ranks 8th in career passing yards (51,065), 9th in career touchdown passes (329) and 8th in career pass completions (4,164). Not bad. And context? Yes, it's necessary.
At the time of his retirement, Gabriel ranked in the Top-6 in NFL history in career passing yards, touchdown passes and pass completions.
- 8 quarterbacks already inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame ranked lower than Gabriel did in career passing yards at the time of their retirement.
- 8 quarterbacks already inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame ranked lower than Gabriel did in career touchdown passes at the time of their retirement.
- 9 quarterbacks already inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame ranked lower than Gabriel did in career pass completions at the time of their retirement.
Accolades? Gabriel had plenty of those too.
- 1969 NFL MVP (AP)
- 4x Pro Bowl selection (1967, 1968, 1969, 1973).
- 2x touchdown pass leader (1969, 1973)
- 3x interception-percentage leader (1965, 1969, 1973)
- Retired ranked No. 1 in NFL history in career interception-percentage, min. 100 starts: 3.31%
- 1973 Comeback Player of the Year (PFW/PFWA).
- Most passing yards, single-season during the post-merger "dead ball" era: 3,219 (1973)
- One of four players in NFL history to lead the league in touchdown passes with two different teams.
- Broke Johnny Unitas' record of 88 consecutive starts, retiring with the longest streak in NFL history: 89 (1965-1972)
- Retired as the Rams all-time leader in touchdown passes: 153
- Retired as the Rams all-time leader in passing yards: 22,223
- Retired as the Rams all-time leader in pass completions: 1,705
My efficency-metric, QBS2, levels the playing field for quarterbacks of all generations, grading them based on how they ranked amongst their peers in passer rating, DVOA (1989-2017) and Total QBR (2006-2016). By this measure, Gabriel's career QBS2 average ranks him higher than 12 quarterbacks already inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
- Roman Gabriel: 65.30
- Terry Bradshaw: 64.88
- Bob Waterfield: 64.61
- Ken Stabler: 61.33
- Jim Kelly: 61.08
- Brett Favre: 60.68
- Joe Namath: 57.22
- Troy Aikman: 56.24
- Bobby Layne: 55.12
- Ace Parker: 54.00
- Warren Moon: 52.57
- John Elway: 52.07
- George Blanda: 51.38
My argument for Gabriel, much like my argument for Charlie Conerly in 2015, is not that he is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. But is his resume just as if not more impressive than some quarterbacks already inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Absolutely.
I interviewed Roman and asked him to reflect upon his 16-year career, his 1969 MVP and what it would mean for him to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ryan: When you were drafted No. 1 overall in the 1962 AFL Draft and No. 2 overall on the 1962 NFL Draft, did you feel added pressure to excel at the pro level the way you did at N.C. State?
Roman: “No, but [I was] concerned about competing against people I did not know so far from home.”
Ryan: Having played in 185 games over 16 seasons, what do you consider to be the finest accomplishment of your NFL career?
Roman: “Just making it that long and always being counted on to show up.”
Note: Gabriel’s 89 consecutive starts at quarterback between 1965-1972 broke the previous NFL record of 88 set by Johnny Unitas (1959-1965).
Ryan: Only four quarterbacks in NFL history have led the league in touchdown passes with two different teams: Y.A. Tittle (49ers and Giants), Sonny Jurgensen (Eagles and Redskins), Peyton Manning (Colts and Broncos) and—do you know the other?
Roman: “I think it was me [with the] L.A. Rams and Philly Eagles.”
Ryan: You were named NFL MVP in 1969. What do you remember most about that season with the Rams?
Roman: “How as a team we played hard. [We] met on Mondays and Thursdays, on our own as teammates, which helped us win 11 in a row.”
Note: During the Rams 11-game winning streak in 1969, Gabriel threw 22 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions.
Ryan: What would induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame mean to you?
Roman: “I have been very fortunate to be in the N.C. State Hall of Fame, Wilmington [Sports Hall of Fame], [and the Wilmington] Walk of Fame. To be a candidate would be an achievement in itself. It would be very special, not only for me but for all the wonderful people donating their time and effort to make it happen.”
There's a movement for Gabriel, 40 years since he reitred from the NFL, to finally be recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You can visit the Facebook page here and follow along on Twitter (@RGabriel4HOF) to help support the cause.