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Roman Gabriel dies at 83. The first Filipino-American quarterback in NFL was MVP in 1969

AP Photo/ File

Roman Gabriel had big size and a big arm when he was the No. 2 draft pick of the Los Angeles Rams in 1962. Even while playing in an era of grinding it out on the ground, he still holds the Rams’ team record with 154 touchdown passes.

Gabriel, the first Filipino-American quarterback in the NFL and the league MVP in 1969, died Saturday. He was 83.

His son, Roman Gabriel III, announced his father’s death on social media, saying he died peacefully at home of natural causes.

In 2021, the elder Gabriel told the Los Angeles Times, “I am retired with heart problems and arthritis but happy.” He said he split time between Wilmington, North Carolina, and Little River, South Carolina.

“We mourn the loss of Rams legend and football pioneer, Roman Gabriel,” the Rams said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Gabriel, who played at North Carolina State and was a two-time player of the year in the Atlantic Coast Conference, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1989.

He was 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, big for a quarterback in that era. Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi once described him as “a big telephone pole,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Gabriel played 11 years for the Rams and five years with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he was traded after the Rams acquired John Hadl.

“Gabe was an amazing player and an even better mentor. Words can’t explain my thanks for what a great teammate he was,” retired quarterback Ron Jaworski, whom Gabriel backed up on the Eagles in his final season, posted on X. “A special player and a better man!”

Gabriel was such a hot prospect that the Rams made him the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft, and the Oakland Raiders of the rival AFL selected him No. 1. Gabriel wound up signing with the Rams, though it took until George Allen was hired as coach in 1966 for Gabriel to start leaving a mark.

From 1967 to 1970, Gabriel led the Rams to a 41-14-4 record and two division titles, though never a playoff game. He was voted MVP in 1969 after throwing for 2,549 yards with 24 touchdown passes and five rushing scores.

Allen left for Washington after the 1970, and Gabriel was shipped to the Eagles in 1973. He was the NFL comeback player of the year, leading the league with 23 touchdown passes and 3,219 yards, as he tried to help revive the Eagles’ offense.

After retiring, Gabriel worked briefly for CBS, calling NFL games.

He went into coaching, with stints at Cal Poly Pomona, the Boston Breakers of the USFL and Raleigh-Durham in the World League of American Football.

Gabriel also dabbled in acting. His movie credits included “Skidoo” starring Jackie Gleason in 1968, and 1969’s “The Undefeated” starring John Wayne and Rock Hudson. He appeared in such TV shows as “Gilligan’s Island,” “Perry Mason,” “Ironside” and “Wonder Woman.” He also joined Bob Hope on a USO tour of Vietnam.

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