I’m not so sure Ken Stabler would survive today’s NFL. Not because he wasn’t a good enough quarterback. It’s because today’s NFL doesn’t like individualists and free spirits than personified what Ken Stabler was. It is why I have so much respect for him and I was saddened to learn of his passing at the age of 69 due to colon cancer.
Stabler did things his own way and didn’t give a damn what anyone else thought. He was outrageous, courageous and a swashbuckler. You want proof? Here’s a link to a story published by Deadspin about the time Stabler allegedly planted cocaine on the car of Sacramento Bee writer Bob Padecky. It was well documented the two of them didn’t get along very well but can you imagine this happening today? ESPN would have crucified Stabler with blowhards Skip Bayless and Stephen A Smith begging the NFL to suspend Stabler for life. But in the 1970s? Meh.
Stabler was known to enjoy the company of the opposite sex. Legend has it that Suite 147 at the El Rancho Tropicana Hotel in Santa Rosa, California (near Oakland) is where Stabler took many of his conquests. All of them according to lore were more than willing. He didn’t ask them to wait on him hand over foot either. His classic quote on his ideal woman was, “As far as cooking goes, the only time I expect a seven-course dinner is when I hand a girl seven cans and an opener.”
Stabler prepared for the next game a tad differently than say, Peyton Manning. While Manning studied film for hours on end at the team’s headquarters, Stabler would go to Gene Upshaw’s bar in Oakland and study the playbook by the jukebox light with a beer or three in hand. He would often show up on the day of the game completely hungover from the previous night’s festivities, but he played like hell on Sunday.
Yes, despite all of his extra-curricular activities that would have made Hugh Hefner proud, Stabler was an excellent quarterback for the Raiders. After a stellar college career at the University of Alabama, Stabler came to Oakland as the understudy to Daryle Lamonica. After three seasons of waiting, legendary Raider coach John Madden finally gave Stabler the keys to the offense.
All Stabler did was lead the NFL in pass completion percentage twice (1973, 1976), passing TDs twice (1974, 1976), game winning drives three times (1973, 1974, 1976), four pro bowls (1973, 1974, 1976, 1977), and was a first team All-Pro in 1974.
You want impact in big games? Stabler had that too. There was the infamous “Sea of Hands” game against Miami in 1974 in which he somehow found Clarence Davis in the end zone through a maze of Dolphin defenders as the Raiders ended Miami’s two-year reign as Super Bowl Champions.
There was the playoff game against New England in 1976 in which Stabler ran a bootleg into the end with mere seconds on the clock, giving the Raiders a 24-21 victory, avenging their only loss that season and propelling Oakland to their first Super Bowl title.
A year later, the Raiders and Baltimore Colts were engaged in a classic battle that required double overtime. It was Stabler who provided the decisive blow, finding tight end Dave Casper in the “Ghost to the Post” as the Raiders emerged victorious.
Stabler’s time in Oakland came to an end after the 1979 season, following a dispute with Raider owner Al Davis. Stabler was subsequently traded to the Houston Oilers where he was thought to be the final piece to their championship puzzle. Sadly for Stabler and the Oilers, things didn’t work out as planned. Despite having the powerful Earl Campbell at running back, the Oilers never made their Super Bowl dreams come true as the Raiders of all teams, knocked out Houston in the AFC Wildcard game.
Stabler played one more year in Houston before being shipped to New Orleans where he never found his game again. Stabler retired following the 1984 season.
Despite his lack of success in Houston and New Orleans, Stabler should be in the NFL Hall of Fame. He was an integral part of some outstanding Raider teams in the 1970s that terrified opponents. Heck, Stabler was perhaps the only quarterback that actually put some fear in the Pittsburgh Steelers legendary Steel Curtain defense.
Why isn’t he in Canton? Is it because the team surrounding him was very good (which they were) and that diminished his accomplishments? Is it because he played for the Raiders, the so-called villains of the NFL for their outlaw persona at the time? Is it because of his lifestyle that is somewhat frowned upon by the uppity types that decide who enters the Hall? Is it because his inglorious end in Houston and New Orleans looks bad in the voters eyes? Whatever the case may be, the voters should overlook the flaws and put Ken Stabler in the Hall of Fame.
Oh, and how can I forget? Pro wrestler Jake “The Snake” Roberts used The Snake moniker has an homage to Stabler who was also nicknamed The Snake by his teammates.
RIP Ken Stabler. A true character during a time characters weren’t frowned upon. The NFL could use some colourful personalities today. Stabler was more than that. He will be missed by his three daughters and a legion of fans who loved him.
You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973