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.