TRACEWELL: ‘There’s a Snake in the Hall’ |

TRACEWELL: ‘There’s a Snake in the Hall’

Rick Tracewell stands next to the bust of Kenny Stabler at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Submitted photo |

Rick Tracewell recently attended the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony and festivities in Canton, Ohio. This is the second and final part of a two-part series chronicling his experience at the event.

Ken Stabler took a very different road to Canton than many. Stabler, nicknamed “Snake” by his Foley, Alabama high school football coach after a long, winding path into the end zone, was as unconventional as they come and that made his being drafted by the Oakland Raiders a match for the ages. Raiders fans loved his maverick attitude and the fact that even under the worst circumstances, he somehow pulled it out in the end and found a way to win. Stabler was not known to have the strongest throwing arm, but as a lefthanded quarterback, he had deadly accuracy. It didn’t hurt that Stabler was under the tutelage of now fellow Hall of Fame coach John Madden and had Hall of Famers wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff and tight end Dave “Ghost” Casper as well as four-time Pro-Bowl wide receiver Cliff Branch to throw to. All while being protected by an offensive line featuring Hall of Famers Art Shell and Gene Upshaw that seemingly gave him all the time in the world to find an open man.

Stabler was the key component in some of the most famous games in NFL history. Games with names like “Holy Roller,” “Ghost to the Post” and “Sea of Hands.” Dramatic comebacks aside, Stabler has the numbers to back up his rightful place in the hall. Stabler has a winning record (20-10) against all Hall of Fame quarterbacks he faced, save one. Quarterbacks with names such as Bradshaw, Fouts, Griese, Staubach and Tarkenton. Stabler and Montana split their two starts against each other with one win apiece.

“If I had one drive to win a game to this day, and I had a quarterback to pick, I would pick Kenny. Snake was a lot cooler than I was. He was a perfect quarterback and a perfect Raider,” said former Oakland Raiders head coach John Madden.

Those who opposed Stabler being enshrined generally had nothing to back it up with the exception of them not liking his off the field party lifestyle. Ironically, it was Stabler’s ability to party with his teammates and still pull out a win on Sunday that made him a legend during a time when the NFL was just starting to become a nationally televised sport, which could be the core issue for some.

“There’s nothing wrong with reading the game plan by the light of the jukebox,” Stabler once said.

It’s not a stretch of the imagination to view the timing of Stabler’s inclusion into the Hall as suspect at best. Stabler was up for consideration by the committee four times, including this final one, and has been eligible for senior committee consideration since 2009. So why did it take Stabler passing away for him to finally get in? Did his stats suddenly get better with time? There is more than simply speculation that there was a contingency of Hall of Fame voters who – for whatever reason – did not want to give Stabler the respect and satisfaction of being enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Stabler’s long time partner Kim Bush told me this past weekend that he had made peace with the fact that he wouldn’t be there to receive his gold jacket and enjoy his moment at the podium.

“Kenny knew in his heart that he wouldn’t live to see this day,” she said. Sad, considering that Stabler spent more of his life helping others than marching down a football field on Sundays.

The XOXO Stabler Foundation, a 501c nonprofit organization founded by Stabler, is a leader in the fight to reduce head injury caused by contact sports. After Stabler’s death in 2015 — and at his request — his brain and spinal cord were donated to Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center. The test results were published in February of 2016, showing that Stabler had advanced CTE likely caused by repeated blows to the head while playing the sport he loved. Since the test results were revealed, at least three of Stabler’s former teammates have pledged to donate their brains to the same institute for testing after they pass.

Ken Stabler’s daughter Kendra stood with her two sons — known as Kenny’s grand snakes — on Saturday, looked directly into the live television camera and said, “There’s a Snake in the Hall!” Kenny would be proud.

Pro Football Hall of Fame: What are the odds?

This past weekend, five more bronze busts have been forever placed beside legends of the NFL within the walls of the Canton, Ohio museum and tourist attraction known as the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This has happened each year since the hall opened in 1963 with 17 charter enshrinees.

Even the casual football fan is aware of the Hall of Fame and that the iconic bronze busts of the enshrinees are created and displayed for visitors to the facility. What many fans don’t know is how spectacularly difficult it is to even play professional football in order to be considered, let alone actually being voted into the Hall.

A new attraction at the Pro Football Hall of Fame is called “A Game for Life” in which visitors are brought into a room made to look like an old time football locker room adorned with jerseys, helmets and cleats of greats like Montana and Marcus Allen. You are immersed in sound and imagery that gives you the sense of what it may be like to be a professional football player. A holographic version of hall of famer Joe Namath is your guide. Before the show begins, an animated feature tells an incredible story featuring staggering numbers that helps you understand just how very special it is to be inducted into this hall of football heroes.

Since 1920, over 100 million people in the U.S. have played the game of football; 2.2 million of those have played football at the collegiate level. Of those, only 27,000 have played, coached and/or administered the game of football professionally. Of those, only 303 are enshrined in the hall of fame as of last weekend.

Broken down, only 2.2 percent of the 100 million go on to play football in college. A mere 1.2 percent of collegiate players make it to the NFL and only 1.1 percent of those make it to the Hall of Fame. For you math geeks, that’s .0003 percent of football players get their head carved into a bronze bust for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Yeah, it’s a pretty big deal to be in the Hall.

Rick Tracewell is a Nevada County resident.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User