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Roman Gabriel: Teams, teammates mourn NFL's first Filipino-American QB

Roman Gabriel (18) played quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams from 1962 through 1972. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Rams
Roman Gabriel (18) played quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams from 1962 through 1972. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Rams

April 22 (UPI) -- Roman Gabriel's former teams and teammates continue to mourn after learning of the death of the NFL's first Filipino-American quarterback. The 1969 MVP, who died of natural causes, was 83.

Gabriel's son, Roman Gabriel III, said he died while at home Saturday in Little River, S.C. His body is in the care of Little River's Lee Funeral Home, but no services had been scheduled as of Monday morning.

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"We mourn the loss of Rams legend and football pioneer, Roman Gabriel," the Los Angeles Rams wrote on social media. "We extend our condolences to his family and friends during this difficult time.

Gabriel, a Wilmington, N.C., native, attended the city's New Hanover High School. He then starred at North Carolina State, setting many school passing records and resulting in his 1989 induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.

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Gabriel, who also played for the Wolfpack baseball team, went on to become the No. 1 overall pick by the Oakland Raiders in the 1962 AFL Draft. Two days later, he was selected by the Rams as the No. 2 pick in the 1962 NFL Draft.

He completed 52.6% of his throws for 29,444 yards, 201 touchdowns and 149 interceptions over 183 career appearances in the NFL.

The four-time Pro Bowl selection and 1969 All-Pro also earned 1973 Comeback Player of the Year honors from the Pro Football Writers of America. He received MVP honors in 1969 from UPI, the AP, NEA and Sporting News.

Gabriel made his NFL debut for the Rams in a 27-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 30, 1962, at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

He served as a backup behind Zeke Bratkowski and Bill Munson over the next several seasons, but often earned playing time because of poor play or injuries sustained by the starters.

He became the primary starter in 1966, leading the Rams to an 8-6 record over his 14 starts. He made the Pro Bowl in each of the next three seasons, including during his MVP campaign, when he led the NFL with 24 touchdown passes.

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Gabriel was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1973. He led the NFL with 270 completions, 460 attempts, 3,219 passing yards and 23 touchdown passes over 14 starts that season.

Gabriel made 89-consecutive starts for the Rams over an eight-season stretch. That run stood as an NFL record at the time, but now ranks 16th in league history. He went 0-2 in two career playoff appearances.

Gabriel remains the Rams' franchise touchdown pass (154) leader. His 74 victories as a starter also stand as a franchise record for a Rams quarterback.

"RIP Roman Gabriel," Ron Jaworski, one of Gabriel's former teammates, tweeted Saturday. "Gabe was an amazing player and an even better mentor. Words can't explain my thanks for what a great teammate he was.

"A special player and a better man!"

Gabriel served as a broadcaster for the NFL on CBS from 1978 to 1979. He also worked as head coach at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and for the Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks of the World League of American Football. Gabriel was an offensive coordinator for the USFL's Boston Breakers in 1983.

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Outside of football, Gabriel made frequent TV guest appearances on talk shows and enjoyed a brief movie and TV acting career.

He also served as president for two Minor League Baseball franchises, promoted celebrity golf tournaments and was known for helping to raise money for various charities.

"Oversized for a quarterback at the time with magnificent physical skills, Roman Gabriel simply rewrote the NC State record books," National Football Foundation chairman Archie Manning said in a news release.

"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."

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