The tension between the NFL and AFL during the 1960s was great, but it reached its fever pitch when the Oakland Raiders signed Roman Gabriel in 1967. The Raiders originally drafted Gabriel in the 1962 AFL Draft, but he instead signed with the Los Angeles Rams.
The Raiders, however, were able to seize on Gabriel’s dissatisfaction with his use in Los Angeles and he signed with the Raiders. While some players had opted to sign with the AFL out of college instead of the NFL (like Joe Namath), Gabriel was widely considered one of the first NFL stars to be lured away by the upstart league according to AP reports at the time.
The AFL was believed to have attempted a raid on NFL talent in retaliation to the New York Giants’ signing of kicker Pete Gogolak. (That’s right a kicker.)
But Gabriel never played with the Raiders. (And if case you never heard; the AFL and NFL merged!) Instead he became the leader of new coach George Allen’s offense. Together the Rams would have much on-field success and Gabriel was selected as the NFL’s MVP in 1969. In fact, he’s still the Los Angeles Rams’ all-time leader in touchdown passes (154) and games won by a starting quarterback (74). He was also the first Asian-American quarterback in the NFL.
Gabriel was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1973 after injuries and new coach Chuck Knox facilitated the move. Gabriel would be the NFL’s comeback player of the year in his first year in Philly and earned his fourth and last Pro Bowl berth.
Gabriel has not been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he often feels that it’s because of his lack of a Super Bowl title. But many who played with him consider him one of the best of his era.