Hall of Famer Roman Gabriel Passes Away

Two-Time First Team All-American redefined the position of quarterback while playing at NC State.

Roman Gabriel, the 1989 College Football Hall of Fame inductee who starred at North Carolina State from 1959-61, passed away April 20. He was 83.

“Oversized for a quarterback at the time with magnificent physical skills, Roman Gabriel simply rewrote the NC State record books,” said NFF Chairman Archie Manning. “I had the privilege of being inducted alongside Roman Gabriel in 1989, and he was a special person who used his platform as an athlete, and later as an actor, to make an impact in the community. We are deeply saddened to learn of his passing and our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and the entire Wolfpack nation.”

At 6-4 and 225 pounds, Roman Gabriel did it all, twice earning First Team All-America honors and twice being named the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year. He also earned Academic All-America honors for his accomplishments in the classroom. The captain of the team, he set 22 school and nine conference football records, and he became the first ACC quarterback to pass for more than 1,000 yards in a single season. He was the first NC State football player to top the NCAA in a statistical category, leading the nation with a 60.4% completion percentage in 1959. During three seasons in Raleigh, he passed for 19 touchdowns and ran for 15, establishing an ACC record with 34 touchdowns. His 2,951 career passing yards set the school record at the time. Against Maryland in 1959, he completed 23 passes.

As a sophomore, Gabriel also starred in the defensive secondary, and he was selected as the National Sophomore Back of the Year by The Saturday Evening Post and Playboy. His exceptional athletic prowess also allowed him to appear on the NC State baseball diamond, leading Wolfpack with five home runs and 18 RBIs as a junior first baseman in 1961. Gabriel became the first NC State athlete to have his number retired in any sport when Governor Terry Sanford presented him his No. 18 jersey a basketball game in 1962.

A First Round NFL Draft pick (second overall)  by the Rams in 1961, he played 16 years as a pro in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, earning four trips to the Pro Bowl. Gabriel was the first Filipino-American quarterback in the NFL and the league MVP in 1969. Football was his springboard to other pursuits, and he became a recognizable face in Hollywood and TV commercials, starring alongside John Wayne, Rock Hudson, Jackie Gleason and Bob Hope.

After playing football, Gabriel worked in the media, covering NFL games briefly for or CBS and for seven seasons with the Carolina Panthers Radio Network. He also became a coach with stints at Cal Poly Pomona as the head coach from 1980-82 and then with the Boston Breakers of the USFL as an offensive coordinator in 1983 and Raleigh-Durham in the World League of American Football as the head coach in 1991.  He founded Roman Gabriel Sports Connections with a home office in Pineville, North Carolina, and branches in Arizona and California. The company offered training seminars, with Gabriel as motivational speaker. Roman also served as president of minor league baseball teams in Charlotte and Gastonia, North Carolina. He promoted celebrity golf tournaments for various charities – multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, leukemia, the blind, Special Olympics and the Salvation Army, helping raise more than $7 million.

The Wilmington, NC, native got his start on the gridiron at New Hanover High School. He was born Aug. 5, 1940. He was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1971 and the NC State Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012 as a member of the inaugural class.