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Rams legend, former NFL MVP quarterback Roman Gabriel dies at age 83

Roman Gabriel, one of pro football’s best quarterbacks during the 1960s, passed away Saturday morning, his son announced. He was 83 years old.

“I am sad to announce my father Roman Gabriel passed away peacefully this morning of natural causes at his home. The entire family asked for your prayers, and to please respect our privacy – I love you dad”

In 1962, Gabriel, who played at NC State from 1959-1961, was the No. 1 overall pick in the AFL Draft and the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft. Instead of signing with the AFL’s Raiders, Gabriel joined the NFL’s Rams, a decision that paid major dividends for the franchise. 

The Rams issued a statement, paying respect to their former player: 

“We mourn the loss of Rams legend and football pioneer, Roman Gabriel. We extend our condolences to his family and friends during this difficult time.”  

By the end of the ’60s, Gabriel emerged as one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. He was a Pro Bowler each year from 1967-69 and was tabbed as an All-Pro in 1969 and league MVP, when he led the NFL in touchdown passes. 

Gabriel, along with the Rams’ Fearsome Foursome defensive line, led Los Angeles to a 32-7-3 regular season record over that span that included a pair of division titles. 

Gabriel’s Rams came up short twice in the playoffs against the eventual NFL champions. In 1969, the Rams were defeated by the Packers during what was Green Bay’s last title run under Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi. Two years later, the Rams were edged 23-20 by a Vikings team that lost just one game prior to that year’s Super Bowl

In 1973, Gabriel signed with the Eagles after 11 seasons with the Rams. That year, Gabriel won Comeback Player of the Year (and was named to his fourth and final Pro Bowl) after pacing the NFL in attempts, completions, passing yards and touchdown passes. He played four more seasons in Philadelphia before retiring after the 1977 season. 

While he is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Gabriel’s career rivals several quarterbacks who are in Canton, Ohio. He has more career passing yards and touchdown, for example, than Hall of Fame quarterbacks Bart Starr, Roger Staubach and Bob Griese. He also has more career passing yards than Terry Bradshaw. Championships is really the only difference in resumes between those quarterbacks and Gabriel. 

“He was as good as the very best at the time,” Hall of Fame coach Dick Vermeil once said of Gabriel. “He had a very strong arm and was a real worker. No one at the time was preparing to play each week with more effort than Roman at that time. He was a real student of the game.” 

Gabriel is still the Rams’ all-time career leader with 154 touchdown passes. 

“The way they throw the ball now, it’s surprising I’m still ranked up there,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1997. “But if I’d had the martial arts all along, my career would have lasted at least three more years.”

Gabriel is a 1989 inductee of the College Football Hall of Fame and an inaugural member of the NC State Athletic Hall of Fame. He was a two-time ACC Player of the Year, set 22 school records and was the first ACC quarterback to throw for over 1,000 yards in a season. 

After retiring from football, Gabriel enjoyed successful careers in acting, coaching and broadcasting. He also raised millions for various charities. 

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