Welcome home, Ken Stabler.
More than 30 years after his career ended in 1984, Stabler, the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1974 and the winning quarterback in Super Bowl XI for the Oakland Raiders, finally earned induction Saturday into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, Saturday. For Stabler, who unfortunately passed away last summer on July 8, the honor will serve as the ultimate validation and the final word on a gritty career that included its share of highs and lows. In the end, however, it will forever be recognized as a Hall of Fame career.
While Stabler’s election to the Hall was long overdue, former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre’s election in his first year of eligibility came as little surprise. The former Southern Miss legend leads a class of eight new Hall of Famers that includes, in addition to Stabler, former Indianapolis Colts star wide receiver Marvin Harrison; linebacker Kevin Greene who spent time with the Los Angeles Rams (1985-1992), Pittsburgh Steelers (1993-1995), Carolina Panthers (1996, 1998-1999) and San Francisco 49ers (1997); long-time St. Louis Rams offensive tackle Orlando Pace; and former Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Tony Dungy. Joining Stabler through induction by the seniors committee is former Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins offensive guard Dick Stanfel, a star in the 1950’s. Former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo, Jr., rounded out the class after being nominated as a contributor.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2016
DeBartolo, Jr., was the owner of the San Francisco 49ers for 23 years before voluntarily ceding control in 2000 to his sister following a one-year suspension due to his role in the 1998 corruption case that sent former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards to prison. DeBartolo, Jr., had sought a casino license in the state, and was charged with a felony for failing to report Edwards under-the-table demand of $400,000 in exchange for the license.
But DeBartolo’s contributions as an owner are unquestionably worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. His five Super Bowl titles in a 14-year span from 1982-1995 is a record for a single owner.
After arriving in the NFL as an undrafted safety out of the University of Minnesota in 1977, Dungy turned to coaching after a short three-year career as an active NFL player. He then spent 15 years as an assistant coach in the NFL before getting his chance as a head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996, considered at the time to be one of the worst franchises in NFL history. The Buccaneers had not made the playoffs since 1982, but it took just two seasons for Dungy to lead them back to the postseason after installing his legendary “Tampa 2” defense that was based on concepts he had learned as both a player and a coach in Pittsburgh dating back to the late 1970’s.
Dungy would ultimately spend six seasons in Tampa Bay leading the Buccaneers to the playoffs in each of his final three seasons before being replaced by Jon Gruden. Gruden would lead the Buccaneers to their first Super Bowl title the following season, but Dungy is still credited with building the team.
His dismissal from Tampa Bay may have been a blessing in disguise anyway as he was quickly hired in January 2002 to lead the Indianapolis Colts with young phenom Peyton Manning at quarterback. After some early playoff disappointments, his defensive concepts eventually took hold, and in 2006, he led the Colts to their first Super Bowl title since their days in Baltimore. It was Dungy’s second Super Bowl ring counting one title as a player with the Steelers in Super Bowl XIII.
Dungy stepped down as head coach of the Colts following the 2008 season, and has served as a studio analyst in the years since.
Favre was already known for his gunslinging ways at Southern Miss when he was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the second round of the 1991 NFL Draft with the 33rd overall pick. Heavily coveted by the Green Bay Packers general manager at the time, Ron Wolf, he spent just one season in Atlanta before the Packers worked out a trade to bring him to Green Bay. It ultimately proved to be one of the best trades in league history.
For the next 16 seasons, Favre was almost indestructible starting every Packers game at quarterback from September 20, 1992, to January 20, 2008, part of a league-record streak that would continue into the 2010 season when he was with the Minnesota Vikings. He became the first player to win three consecutive MVP awards while leading the Packers to two Super Bowls including their first Super Bowl title since Super Bowl II when he directed the Packers 35-21 win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.
Favre’s tenure ended acrimoniously in Green Bay as he retired in March 2008 only to rescind his retirement in July as the upcoming season approached. By then, the Packers were committed to Favre’s backup Aaron Rodgers, and that led to finger-pointing from both sides as Favre asked for a trade or release. Ultimately, a trade was worked out sending Favre to the New York Jets, a deal that lasted just one season.
Following the season, Favre again retired only to rethink his decision once again in August as the 2009 season approached. Ultimately, Favre signed with the Packers division rivals in Minnesota, and he would end up having a record-setting season that fall for the Vikings. He ended up playing one more season for the Vikings in 2010 before ultimately retiring for good.
At the time of his retirement, Favre held many of the NFL’s all-time records for quarterbacks including most career completions, most career attempts, most career interceptions, most career victories as a starting quarterback, most passing yards and most passing touchdowns. He has since been passed by Peyton Manning in the final two categories.
Favre has mostly remained out of the spotlight during his retirement, but he and the Packers resolved their differences in the years since leading to Favre’s selection to the team’s hall of fame in July 2015.
Greene’s story is one of the ultimate overachiever.
His journey to the NFL and ultimately the Pro Football Hall of Fame began as a walk-on at Auburn University in the early 1980’s, and by his senior year, he was the SEC’s leader in sacks with 11. Still, he wasn’t considered a top prospect, but finally was selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the fifth round of the 1985 NFL Draft with the 113th overall pick.
He quickly became a premier pass rusher for the Rams, and received his first designation as an All-Pro in 1989. Green remained with the Rams through 1992, but his greatest success was still yet to come. In a three-year span with the Steelers, he earned All-Pro honors again in 1994 and played in two Pro Bowls.
He then moved to Carolina in 1996 for one season where he was named an All-Pro again along with earning NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. A dispute with the team, however, ended up with him playing for the San Francisco 49ers in 1997, but he returned to Carolina for his final two seasons in 1998-1999. He retired as the NFL’s third-leading sack artist and first among linebackers with 160 quarterback take-downs.
After a standout career at Syracuse, Harrison was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the 1996 NFL Draft with the 19th overall pick.
Harrison showed a lot of promise in his first three years as a Colt, but it wasn’t until Peyton Manning arrived in 1998 that his career really took off. In Manning’s second season in 1999, the duo teamed up for 115 receptions for 1,663 yards and 12 touchdowns, and for an eight-year stretch through 2006, they were the NFL’s top pass-catch combo.
Harrison then missed most of the 2007 season due to a knee injury, and upon his return in 2008, he clearly was not the same receiver. He asked for his release following the season, but found no suitors willing to take a chance on him in 2009. He sat out the entire season before quietly filing his retirement papers following the season.
Pace enjoyed a dominant career at Ohio State capped by an Outland-Trophy winning season in 1996 in which he also finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting, almost unheard of for an offensive lineman. He was then selected by the St. Louis Rams with the No. 1 pick of the 1997 NFL Draft.
He ended up spending 12 years in St. Louis as the cornerstone of an offensive line that helped carry the Rams to two Super Bowls in a three-year span (1999, 2001) including a win over the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. He ultimately earned All-Pro honors three times and played in seven Pro Bowls before retiring following one season in Chicago in 2009.
Stabler played college football at Alabama for the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant from 1965-1967. He entered the university in 1964 during Joe Namath’s senior season, but NCAA rules prohibited freshmen from playing at the time. After serving as the backup to Steve Sloan during the Crimson Tide’s 1965 national championship run, Stabler took over the starting position in 1966 and promptly led his team to an 11-0 finish capped by a 34-7 rout of Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl. In a result that would be unfathomable today, the undefeated, defending national champion Crimson Tide finished third in the polls behind No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan State.
After a rocky senior season in which he was temporarily suspended from the team due to his wild ways off the field, Stabler was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the second round of the 1968 NFL Draft. Still, he turned in what was probably the highlight of his Alabama career in the Iron Bowl with his legendary 53-yard “Run in the Mud” for a touchdown that proved to be the winning score in Alabama’s 7-3 victory over the archrival Auburn Tigers.
His career in Oakland didn’t really get on track until the 1972 season when he relieved former Notre Dame quarterback and Raiders’ starter Daryle Lamonica in the fourth quarter of a playoff game at Pittsburgh. A 30-yard scramble for a touchdown by Stabler gave the Raiders a late lead, but the Steelers would rally to win on one of the most famous plays in football history – a deflected pass from Terry Bradshaw to Franco Harris known in football lore as the “Immaculate Reception.”
Stabler would see his first significant playing time the following season in 1973, but his breakout season would come the following year when he led the Raiders to a 12-2 record and helped his team earn homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. A narrow 28-26 escape over the Miami Dolphins in the divisional round was followed then by another bitter loss to the Steelers – this time in a 24-13 loss at home in the Oakland Coliseum.
The 1975 season ended in similar fashion – another heartbreaking 16-10 loss to the Steelers in the playoffs – but then the Raiders finally broke through in 1976. Led by Stabler who was the league’s passing champion, the Raiders finally advanced to the Super Bowl vanquishing their nemesis from Pittsburgh in the process by a 24-7 count in the AFC Championship Game. In Super Bowl XI against the Minnesota Vikings, Stabler and Company rolled to a 32-14 win to earn the first Super Bowl title in Raiders history.
Stabler passed away on July 8, 2015, at the age of 69.
Stanfel was a star at the now-defunct program at the University of San Francisco before embarking on a career as an NFL Player that lasted just seven seasons. It was a memorable seven years, however, as the former Don offensive lineman was named First-Team NFL in five of those seasons from 1952-1958. He spent his first four seasons with the Detroit Lions before moving to the Washington Redskins for the final three seasons of his career.
During his time with the Lions, he was a key component of the team’s 1952 and 1953 NFL title runs, and he was even named the Lions’ Most Valuable Player following the 1953 season. Following his playing career, he spent 39 years as an assistant coach starting in the college ranks before moving to the NFL as an offensive line coach with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1964. His only experience as a head coach came in the final four games of the 1980 season when he served in an interim role for the New Orleans Saints after Dick Nolan was fired after an 0-12 start. He ultimately led the Saints to their only victory in a 1-15 season.
Stanfel spent the final 12 years of his coaching career in Chicago helping the Bears to a championship in Super Bowl XX at the conclusion of the 1985 season. It was Stanfel’s first NFL title since his final championship in Detroit 32 years prior.
Like Stabler, Stanfel’s election to the Hall of Fame came via the seniors committee. Ironically, he passed away just 16 days prior to Stabler’s death last summer on June 22, 2015, at the age of 87.
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