Ken Stabler, R.I.P.

Ken Stabler on the right with his favorite receiver, Fred Biletnikoff.

The heroes of my youth are dropping like flies, first Chris Squire, and now Ken Stabler who died today at the age of 69. The Oakland Raiders in the 1970’s were rebels, badasses, and the darlings of the Bay Area counterculture. Snake Stabler was their leader and, quite simply. the greatest QB of his time. You can keep doofus Terry Bradshaw or goody two-shoes Roger Staubach, Stabler was the man; what a character.

No lead was ever safe for Raiders opponents. Stabler was a genius at the two-minute drill and would do whatever it took to win: from Hail Mary passes to forward fumbles, the Snake did it all. The Raiders won one Super Bowl during the Stabler-Madden era but were inches away from 2 or 3 more. In 1973, a blown call gave the Steelers the AFC championship. The refs later admitted that they fucked up but we afraid of rioting by Pittsburgh fans if they reversed it. Enough sour grapes, those were heady days to be a fan.

Ken Stabler is still not in the football hall of fame. He’s underrated because he played before passing stats became so inflated by rule changes and short passes. The Snake threw long, wasn’t afraid to throw an INT, and didn’t give a shit if the fans booed when he did. He knew he’d get them on the next series. He usually did too.

Stabler finished his career with the New Orleans Saints but hard living and multiple knee injuries made him a shadow of the player was in his prime. That’s why I cringed when a local sportscaster called him a former Saints QB. He was a fucking Raider and the bull goose loony of the asylum of misfits, outlaws, and eccentrics assembled by Al Davis and John Madden.

My late father and I agreed on very few things, but we agreed on Kenny Stabler and the Raiders. We had season tickets and went to games together even when we weren’t speaking otherwise. Most of all we agreed that Ken Stabler was THE MAN. He will be missed.

8 thoughts on “Ken Stabler, R.I.P.

  1. I agree. He was a FUCKING Raider. I really wished I’d have met him at some point. He typified the term “gunslinger” and he had some incredible receivers (Casper, Branch, Fred B) who hauled in some incredible passes. What’s funny about his time as a Raider is that Davis supposedly didn’t want him. He preferred true bomb throwers like Lamonica. It was Madden who demanded the Snake. He should be in the hall of fame, moreso than some of the assholes who are in there (cough… cough… Fouts… Cough…)

  2. Madden retired because he did not want to coach a Raider team without the Snake. The man was an electrifying players. Just oozed badass charisma.

  3. I FUCKING HATE the raiders! I am a CHARGER for all you bitches in the raider nation. But, I respect greatness and The Snake was one of the best ever R.I.P.

    1. Hell no! I’m also a Buckeye from Canton, Ohio. I live in San Diego. I did not care for the Fouts call out, but I agree KS should be in the HOF.

  4. One time, while getting off an elevator at the Florida Press Center in Tallahassee, I literally bumped into Fred Biletnikoff. He was in town to hand out the annual “best receiver” award that bears his name at Florida State. Anyway, I stepped out after we exchanged excuse-mes and he went up and I’m standing there, at 40-something years old, thinking how bad I wanted to BE Fred Biletnikoff when I was a high school receiver myself.

    Then this got me to thinking how I worked at a Tuscaloosa radio station (WTBC/WUOA) in 1975 when two of our DJs had a running bet to pay each other $1 if they could force the other to look at one of those yellow smiley-face stickers that were the rage at the time. It was a Monday Night Football game and one of them called the other to tell him to watch the Raiders because Stabler was having a hell of a night. But the real reason he called was because Stabler had attached a smiley-face sticker to his helmet and it was seen in iver closeup. You owe me a dollar, dumbass.

  5. Ditto my old man and our 49er season tickets. We would suspend hostilities. Best game of the year was often the Niners/Raiders pre-season “exhibition.” It was more like gang warfare. Jim Otto actually postponed his retirement to have one more go at the Niners. Years later I was at the Jets/Oilers game when Snake overcame a crushing hangover and threw five second half TD passes to beat the Jets. A moment to savor.

  6. That was not the year the Steelers won the AFC championship. They went from there to Miami, where the Dolphins were too busy being awesomely undefeated to care about the Immaculate Reception.

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