NC State Selects First-Ever Hall of Fame Class | Complete Bios
RALEIGH, N.C. - Gabe.
It’s a name that still resonates -- 51 years after he threw his last pass at NC State, years after completing his 16th season in the NFL.
Such was the indelible impression Roman Gabriel made as a college All-American and All-Pro quarterback.
Semi-retired now and living in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the 72-year old Wilmington native will be back at his alma mater October 5 for induction at NCSU’s first Athletics Hall of Fame banquet.
“I wear shorts and flip flops,” quipped Gabriel, adding that he’ll have to spiff up for the Wolfpack event.
An Academic All-American and two-time football All-American, Gabriel set 22 NCSU school records, nine conference records, and earned a place in the College Football Hall of Fame.
More than a quarterback, he was an “Athlete” who played three sports his freshman year and excelled in all of them.
“He was something special,” said teammate Sam Raneri. “He could have played basketball for anybody.”
Gabriel was a supple 6-4 and 235 pounds, strong, with a rifle arm. He had lots of productive games at State running and throwing in an era when college football teams were more ground than pass oriented.
Funny thing, few people saw what he calls one of his most unforgettable sports days at State.
It went like this:
He went to spring football practice, then to baseball practice. That night he played two basketball games, helping his Tri-State Trojans win the City League championship and his dorm team capture the Campus title.
“Then we went to the Players Retreat to celebrate,” Gabriel recalled. “That’s one day I’ll never forget.”
There were multiple other highlights.
Like the two times he led State past Maryland in football and another occasion when he beat the Terps in baseball by belting a home run.
Fear the Turtle? Fear Gabe.
This was long before Carter-Finley Stadium was built, before Philip Rivers and Dave Buckey and Erik Kramer arrived on the State scene. It was a time when the Pack rode the train instead of a plane to College Park, Md., yet it was a good time for Gabriel and the boys.
A member of the Catholic faith, Gabriel gave Notre Dame a look during the recruiting process, but calculated that South Bend “was too far for me to thumb home.”
On his visit to State he saw several students from Wilmington, which made him feel at home, and he was treated to two basketball games in rocking Reynolds Coliseum.
Oddly, Gabriel said he was never shown Riddick Stadium, the small arena where he became a big-time college football player, but not a big-headed player.
“He was unassuming...a quiet, shy guy always pushing somebody else (to get) the credit,” said Sam Raneri.
Who is Roman Gabriel?
Ask that question and he is apt to reel off names of people who influenced him profoundly and contributed to his personal and athletic development.
There was his father, a hard-working Filipino immigrant. Then there were the coaches --legendary Leon Brodgen, Jap Davis and Buck Hardee in Wilmington.
Later State’s Earle Edwards and the Los Angeles Rams George Allen impacted him.
“I was coached well in high school,” said Gabriel, who then received a graduate degree in football, so to speak, from Edwards and Allen.
“Coach Edwards gave me the education I needed--be smarter than the next person. I was able to use that. George Allen was all about tenacity and never being out prepared.”
Gabriel processed their teaching and parlayed it into a long, distinguished pro career after being chosen No. 2 overall in the 1962 draft.
His NFL accolades included All-Pro honors twice, four Pro Bowl appearances, league MVP (1969), and Pro Bowl MVP (1969).
In 1973 a resilient Gabriel won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award in Philadelphia. Recovering from knee and shoulder injuries, he led the league in passing yardage (3,219) and TDs thrown (23).
Before that Gabriel made his mark in 11 seasons with the the Rams, where he directed several winning teams and became the franchise’s all-time passing leader. Including those five years in Philly, he threw for 29,444 yards and 201 touchdowns during his career.
Nifty numbers, yet apparently not nifty enough to get him in the pro football Hall of Fame.
“He belongs in the NFL Hall of Fame; He should be in the Hall of Fame,” insisted former Rams linebacker and teammate Myron Pottios. “The only thing I see keeping him out is no Super Bowls.”
TALL & TOUGH
With his size, strength and guts, Gabriel didn’t flinch at the sight of blitzing linebackers bearing down on him.
“He was not afraid to take on a linebacker or defensive linemen,” said Pottios, a three-time Pro Bowl selection. “He would stay in the pocket a second or two longer. He figured he was tough as the other guy and that was the difference in making a play work, that attitude.
“And when he ran the ball, he only knew one way. Drop the shoulder and go right at the (guy).”
While endowed with God-given ability, Gabriel worked overtime to maximize his talents.
“His strong point was leadership,” Pottios said. “He led by example. I don’t think anybody worked as hard on the field and off the field. He worked to improve himself all the time. He would workout after practice in addition to studying tapes.”
CHANGE OF PACE
His football fame led to other adventures.
Gabriel went Hollywood at times. He played a mini role in Skoodoo with Jackie Gleason and was an Indian -- “Blue Boy” -- in The Undefeated movie starring John Wayne.
“I was always a big fan of (Jackie Gleason) and at that time John Wayne was a hero to anybody Western,” said Gabriel, who also knew Bob Hope and joined him on a trip to visit troops in Vietnam. “They were all great Americans.”
Gabriel simply wasn’t one to stay in the “pocket.” In life, he preferred to scramble.
He started a company that gave training seminars. He had brief coaching stints at Pomona College (Ca.) and with the professional Raleigh Skyhawks.
Later he worked as a TV and radio football analyst, served as president of minor league baseball teams, and did motivational speaking.
“I became a decent public speaker,’’ he said, crediting his NC State speech professor, Len Stinson, for helping him develop that skill.
Compassionate as well as competitive, Gabriel played in Celebrity golf tournaments and directed many fund-raising events.
While playing with the Rams, he helped raise more than $15 million for the Isenhour Medical Center. Throughout North and South Carolina, his tournaments generated over $12 million that was distributed to several charities.
Health issues prevent him from playing golf now. But he can enjoy the beach and bask in the afterglow of a memorable athletic career.
By A.J. Carr, GoPack.com