Roman Gabriel, legendary Rams quarterback who shattered group data, dies at 83


Contemplating that he was the No. 1 total draft decide in a single league and No. 2 within the different, the prize in a bidding warfare marked by intrigue and skullduggery, it took Roman Gabriel a very long time to ascertain himself as a professional soccer quarterback.

As soon as he did, nonetheless, he went about cementing his place as among the best of his day and a near-mythical determine in Rams’ lore. He stands tall within the firm of such former Rams quarterbacks as Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin in Los Angeles and Kurt Warner in St. Louis.

And he did stand tall. Inexperienced Bay teaching legend Vince Lombardi as soon as described him as “an enormous phone pole.” At 6 toes 5 and 235 kilos, he was one of many first of professional soccer’s large quarterbacks. He additionally was the primary Filipino American to play within the Nationwide Soccer League. Sturdy of arm — he may throw the soccer 70 yards — he staked his declare to fame by passing in an period when many coaches relied on a grind-it-out working recreation and noticed the downfield cross as an choice of final resort.

Endlessly royalty within the eyes of Rams followers, Gabriel died Saturday morning at age 83 of pure causes, his son Roman Gabriel III introduced on X, previously often known as Twitter.

Although it’s been practically 50 years since he final performed, Gabriel nonetheless holds the Rams’ data for landing passes, 154; passes thrown, 3,313, and victories by a beginning quarterback, 74. He additionally ranks excessive amongst sign callers for the Philadelphia Eagles, with whom he spent the final 5 seasons of his NFL profession, after 11 with the Rams.

“We mourn the lack of Rams legend and soccer pioneer, Roman Gabriel,” the Rams mentioned on their X account. “We prolong our condolences to his household and associates throughout this tough time.”

We mourn the lack of Rams legend and soccer pioneer, Roman Gabriel. We prolong our condolences to his household and associates throughout this tough time.

— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) April 20, 2024

Popping out of North Carolina State, the place he had been a two-sport star and will properly have lettered in a 3rd, Gabriel was as scorching a prospect as ever got here down the pike. The Oakland Raiders of the fledgling American Soccer League, nonetheless making an attempt to make a reputation for itself, had first alternative within the AFL draft and selected Gabriel. The Rams, with the second decide within the way more established NFL, selected him, too.

The Rams have been providing $15,000 a yr and a $5,000 signing bonus; the Raiders $12,500 with a $2,500 bonus. When it appeared that Gabriel would signal with the Rams, the Raiders turned his AFL rights over to the Dallas Texans, then owned by oil billionaire and league co-founder Lamar Hunt.

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Roman Gabriel as an N.C. State quarterback in 1959.

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Hunt, desperately wanting Gabriel for his league, was ready to supply him $100,000, way over any soccer participant was making on the time. The Rams, although, with common supervisor Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch dealing with negotiations, had spirited Gabriel off to a resort suite in Raleigh, N.C. By some means, Hunt discovered of the subterfuge and referred to as Gabriel on the resort to make the supply. Gabriel was in one other room when the telephone rang. Hirsch picked it up and — pretending to be Gabriel — turned Seek out, saying he was going to play for the Rams.

Gabriel, realizing nothing of the fabulous supply and Hirsch’s chicanery, signed with Los Angeles. Solely later did he study of Hunt’s supply and by then, he had another excuse to be involved.

Waterfield was teaching the Rams then and based on Gabriel, he merely didn’t just like the younger quarterback, a two-time All-American, holder of each passing report at N.C. State and an educational All-American, as properly.

“He mentioned I used to be too dumb to play quarterback, that I couldn’t stroll and chew gum on the similar time,” Gabriel informed the Sacramento Bee in 2007.

Waterfield was gone after Gabriel’s rookie season however Harland Svare, Waterfield’s successor, gave the younger quarterback solely restricted alternatives on the sphere over the following three seasons.

“They’d Ron Miller, then they introduced in Terry Baker, who had gained the Heisman Trophy,” Gabriel informed the Orange County Register. “Then there was Jerry Rhome, Karl Sweetan, Zeke Bratkowski, Invoice Munson. Generally I practiced with the tight ends and extensive receivers.”

Gabriel began solely 23 video games in his first 4 seasons, the Rams successful 11, shedding 11 and tying as soon as. He did, nonetheless, direct victories in 1965 over the eventual champion Inexperienced Bay Packers and the runner-up Cleveland Browns. In that very same span, the opposite quarterbacks began 33 video games, the Rams successful 4, shedding 27 and tying two.

That every one modified when the Rams put in George Allen as coach in 1966. With the Rams’ “Fearsome Foursome” — defensive linemen Rosey Grier, Merlin Olsen, Lamar Lundy and Deacon Jones — rising dominant, Allen went with Gabriel at quarterback and Los Angeles, which hadn’t had a successful season since 1958, was instantly a contender. The Rams completed at 8-6, then went 11-1-2 the following season, successful a division title however shedding to the Packers within the playoffs.

Gabriel was honored as offensive participant of the week the final two weeks of the 1967 common season and the Rams completed as the very best scoring group within the league, with Gabriel throwing for two,779 yards and 25 touchdowns.

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Rams quarterback Roman Gabriel throughout a recreation with the Dallas Cowboys in 1969, the yr he was named the NFL MVP.

(Related Press)

In the meantime, off the sphere, the battle between the 2 leagues had raged on, with the AFL making an attempt to drive a merger, and Gabriel once more a focus. So, when the Raiders got here calling once more in 1966, and Gabriel, making $22,500 a yr and uncertain of his standing with the Rams, he signed with the AFL group for $400,000 and was issued a $100,000 verify, which he folded and put in his pockets.

Most gamers within the days earlier than mega-contracts had offseason jobs to complement their incomes. Gabriel, Olsen and some different teammates had a touring basketball group that paid every $50 a recreation.

“I’d by no means had $100,000, so I put [the check] in my billfold and walked round with it for months,” he informed the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

When he discovered of Allen’s formidable plans for him, although, he signed once more with the Rams and despatched the uncashed verify again to the Raiders. The Raiders responded by sending it again to Gabriel, who once more returned it to the Raiders.

“You’d be stunned,” Gabriel recalled of the back-and-forth verify change. “Folks nonetheless assume I performed for the Raiders.”

Later that yr, the NFL agreed to merge with the AFL, ending the warfare between the leagues and ushering within the Tremendous Bowl period. And, in Los Angeles, the Roman Gabriel period.

From 1967 to 1970, he led the Rams to a 41-14-4 report and two division titles, was twice an All-Professional and, in 1969, the league’s most respected participant and winner of the Bert Bell award because the Maxwell Soccer Membership’s participant of the yr.

Allen, who had lengthy been feuding with common supervisor Dan Reeves, left the Rams after the 1970 season to teach the group now often known as the Washington Commanders, and Gabriel started shedding taking part in time to knee and shoulder accidents. All of the sudden, the Rams had misplaced their edge. When Chuck Knox got here in as coach in 1973, he traded for San Diego Chargers quarterback John Hadl, sending Gabriel to the woeful Eagles.

In his first two seasons as beginning quarterback, he introduced the Eagles again to respectability and in 1973, was voted NFL comeback participant of the yr, main the league in completions, yards passing and touchdowns.

He completed his NFL profession with an 86-64-7 report, passing for greater than 29,000 yards with 201 touchdowns.

It was all the time a little bit of a thriller how Gabriel got here by his athletic prowess. His father, additionally Roman Gabriel, was a Filipino who emigrated to Alaska, then made his approach to Wilmington, N.C., the place he turned a waiter, then a cook dinner for the Atlantic Coast Line railroad. His mom, Edna Mae Wyatt, was an Irish American with no athletic historical past. Gabriel had bronchial asthma as a baby however was all-state, not solely in soccer however basketball and baseball as properly, at New Hanover Excessive in Wilmington. The New York Yankees needed to signal him out of highschool however he opted for N.C. State, the place he deliberate to play all three sports activities.

He did, certainly, play all three as a freshman and regarded basketball his greatest sport however discovered that specializing in athletics was interfering with lecturers and, towards famed Wolfpack coach Everett Case’s needs, gave up basketball. He was a two-way participant in soccer, a defensive again in addition to quarterback, incomes a spot within the School Soccer Corridor of Fame, and loved a profitable faculty baseball profession.

He discovered extra soccer fame in Los Angeles however he additionally discovered Hollywood, or somewhat, it discovered him. He went to Vietnam to entertain troops with Bob Hope, had a significant supporting position in “The Undefeated,” a 1969 film starring John Wayne and Rock Hudson, and was a jail guard in Otto Preminger’s “Skidoo.” He additionally had roles on TV in “Gilligan’s Island,” “Ironside” and “Marvel Lady.”

After soccer, he was a TV commentator for 2 seasons and did some teaching. He was, in truth, the final coach at Cal Poly Pomona earlier than the college dropped soccer. Later in life, he targeting charity work, his group constructing the primary Ronald McDonald Home in North Carolina.

Kupper is a former Occasions employees author


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