Ken Stabler, one of the most recognizable and legendary Oakland Raider players of all time, died on July 9 from stage 4 colon cancer. The Raiders confirmed his death through a news release.
Stabler, 69, was known for energizing a Raiders team and fan base during the 1970s with his style of play at quarterback plus his hard-partying ways. On the field, Stabler earned four Pro Bowl trips, the league Most Valuable Player award in 1974 and guided Oakland to its first Super Bowl victory in the 1976-77 season, defeating the Minnesota Vikings 32-14. Off the field, Stabler was a fixture at different taverns and lived a free-spirted life.
While he eventually played for both the New Orleans Saints and Houston Oilers in the twilight of his career, Stabler is remembered for wearing the silver and black.
“The Raiders are deeply saddened by the passing of the great Kenny Stabler,” said owner Mark Davis through a release. “He was a cherished member of the Raider family and personified what it means to be a Raider. He wore the silver and black with pride and poise and will continue to live in the hearts of Raider fans everywhere. Our sincere thoughts and prayers go out to Kenny’s family.”
John Madden, Stabler’s former head coach with the Raiders, praised his quarterback’s calmness during games.
“I was head coach of the Raiders the entire time Kenny was there, and he led us to a whole bunch of victories, including one in Super Bowl XI,” Madden said through a release. “I’ve often said, if I had one drive to win a game to this day, and I had a quarterback to pick, I would pick Kenny. Snake was a lot cooler than I was. He was a perfect quarterback and perfect Raider. When you think about the Raiders, you think about Ken Stabler. Kenny loved life. It’s a sad day for all Raiders.”
One of Stabler’s most memorable games is the “Sea of Hands” contest against the Miami Dolphins in the 1974 playoffs. “The Snake” led the game-winning drive to lift the Raiders into the AFC Championship game and deny the Dolphins a potential fourth straight Super Bowl bid.
Before personifying the Raiders’ image, Stabler was a star quarterback at the University of Alabama, where he led the Crimson Tide to an undefeated season in 1966. Crimson Tide fans recall him executing the “Run in the Mud” play that led to Alabama beating hated rival Auburn in the 1967 Iron Bowl. Down 3-0, Stabler went on a 53-yard scoring scamper on a muddy and rain-soaked Legion Field to beat the Tigers in the final seconds.
Stabler gave defenses trouble with his arm and legs. But his larger-than-life and tumultuous personality gave him scrutiny and jail time.
Stabler was arrested three times for drunk driving, with his last detainment in 2008. His battles with alcohol eventually led to him severing ties with Alabama football’s radio broadcast team in 2009. According to CBSSports.com college football reporter Jon Solomon, Stabler owed more than $265,000 to the IRS for his company’s unpaid taxes over several years.
In the end and despite his wild lifestyle, Stabler was beloved by his Raider teammates and fans.
Hall of Fame linebacker Ted Hendricks, who was Stabler’s teammate in Oakland, told ESPN “He was such a gentleman. We’re going to miss him. He was always charming and he was a great football player.”
Fellow teammate Lester Hayes told ESPN that he was amazed by Stabler’s play as a signal caller.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Hayes said. “He had pinpoint accuracy. He was like Madison Bumgarner. Fastballs, slider, just pinpoint accuracy. Back in the 70s, we had a lot of love on our team. Kenny was a big part of that.”
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