I got the nicest message from Ken Stabler’s daughters Kendra and Marissa on twitter.
Kendra: @JimJaxMedia this is an amazing article and tribute to my Dad. Thank you. He would have loved this. The love & support has amazed us all.
“Some People need 8 Hours of sleep and some need 3 hours. I didn’t need much sleep and sometimes studied my playbook by the light of the jukebox”
“He was the perfect quarterback and the perfect Raider. If I had to pick one quarterback to win a game in the final drive, it would be Ken Stabler”
“It’s a Travesty of sports justice that Ken Stabler is not in the Hall of Fame. He was as good as any quarterback I ever saw”
Former Bronco Great, Tom Jackson
“Joe Namath was the greatest athlete at quarterback that I ever had, but Ken Stabler was the best quarterback that I ever coached.”
Paul “Bear” Bryant, legendary Alabama Coach
“He was such a gentleman. He wanted to fight it quietly without bother. That’s who he was”.
Ted Hendricks, HOF Raider Linebacker
“I never saw anything like it. He was like Madison Bumgarner the way he could throw fastballs or sliders with pinpoint accuracy.”
Lester Hayes, Former Raider Cornerback
“The Passing Of Legendary Raider Ken Stabler Shocks a Nation”
A leader and true Southern Gentleman to the end.
I’m the big brother people call when there is a tragedy or a problem. There isn’t a week that goes by where someone won’t call me between midnight and 3 am with either a problem or wanting to talk. Call it the big brother syndrome; the John Boy Walton in me. For this I don’t cry much in front of people. And to be honest I never cry over a celebrity or an athletes death. Famous people have never impressed me that much and when people drop their names I just kind of yawn. Unfortunately after hearing the fiasco which is the internet tell me finally that the matriarch of the dynasty which was the Oakland Raiders was gone, I was filled with emotions.
Kenny Stabler; the Snake; passed away yesterday at the age of 69 due to complications of stage 4 colon cancer sending a shockwave of sadness throughout the NFL world. In death, as he did in life, Kenny took on the pressure himself and many of his teammates didn’t even know he was sick. Stabler, until the end; was the classy leader that took on the pressure while lifting the load off of others. Later in life he did color commentary for Alabama games and the state is in mourning for their favorite son.
I slowly walked down my hiking trail and just wanted a minute alone with no sounds. I looked out over the water and for the first time in my life I cried over the loss of a professional athlete.
Ken Stabler; like many; was my favorite athlete. In fact I often either wanted #12 on my teams or the #21 for Roberto Clemente. I would often write both numbers on professional contracts at the bottom when I became an adult. I remember my parents and coaches getting mad at me as a little boy for wanting to use my left hand like Kenny. I remember praying to God to make me have special powers so I could use my left arm like Stabler did. Many times now people think I’m left handed with some of the things I can do.
For a young fan to even grasp in a small way what Stabler meant to the Raiders would take a lot of effort on their part. If you ever get the chance, read the book Snake. It’s the candid account of the lifestyle and crazy ways of the Raiders of that time. In the greatest era of the NFL in the 70’s, George Clooney and Clint Eastwood had nothing on the Snake.
In high school Stabler was 29-1 as a starter. He averaged 29 points a game as a high school basketball player and was drafted by two major league baseball teams. At Alabama he was 28-3-2. For the Raiders he was 69-26-1. 126-30-4. I’m speechless.
To see how dominating the Raiders and Ken Stabler were, look at this stat. In Stabler’s first 69 games as a regular starter for the Raiders, the Raiders were 56-13. I actually had to check the numbers 5 times. That is unreal. That’s greatness.
Stabler’s generation is amazing. Many times under the darkest of circumstances, they are so selfless. Kenny and his family have helped countless people through the XOXO Stabler Foundation. Kenny also was amazingly giving of his time and his efforts in many charities and causes. Like most of his generation he didn’t want much fanfare and didn’t call the presses every time he helped someone. He was a great person. He never turned down a fans request to sign something or talk to him. When he was sick he didn’t want to be a burden and again, was as selfless and giving as a man can be.
I often feel bad for his daughters and grandkids who have shown great patience with some of us loving Ken so much. They have been as caring and kind as he was. In death they also showed the selfless Stabler spirit. The Stabler family announced that his brain and spinal cord will be donated to Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center to support research for degenerative brain disease in athletes. People forget that the Snake was involved in the concussion lawsuit against the NFL.
People often say why does it matter where the Raiders play? I always tell people outside the Oakland bay area that the Raiders are your team but they are our family.
The stories about the fans and players interactions during the glory days of the Raiders in the 70’s are of legend and will never be seen again. The Santa Rosa area would be up all night during training camp, and many times Ken Stabler was up with them. My father actually got to drink with Mr. Stabler once in Santa Rosa when the Raiders were holding court in one of the watering holes.
People forget that during the 70’s the players weren’t getting rich off of the NFL. Many players had extra jobs and did other things to make money. Often times they would meet, work with, or become friends with the fans. You can still see it with some of the Raiders kids and grandkids who are online still repping the silver and black. With fans. the Raiders were not considered celebrities but literal family members.
The most beloved player of them all was Ken Stabler. Mix part Clint Eastwood, part Johnny Cash, a little Kid Rock, and Part Johnny Unitas and you had Ken Stabler.
I laugh now when fans say the NFL and other teams hate the Raiders. They really have no idea what hate is. Back in the 70’s there was no internet, and there wasn’t even an ESPN. The only way to get national news on any team was to watch it on television and most news services were based on the east coast and extremely biased. There were times that you would get more coverage about the Jets and Yankees than you did on your local teams.
The Raiders were flat out hated; by everyone. Since the merger Raider owner Al Davis felt screwed by the AFL and the NFL because he felt they had told him he would become their commissioner. Al Davis from then on was a renegade and it was us against the world. The Raiders constantly had one of the best teams in the NFL and the loudest home crowd but because they never had won a Super Bowl, they were shredded in the media.
“The Raiders can’t win the big one; they choke in the big games; the road to the Super Bowl easily goes through Oakland; The Chokeland Raiders”; it was hard for fans at that time to take, and only a Super Bowl win would fix it.
The animosity for the Raiders was so bad that even after Stabler won the 1974 MVP trophy (and even opponents were shocked he didn’t win it in 1976); many times announcers would have to remind people during the game all the things that Stabler had accomplished, and pretty much who he was. If you were west of the Mississippi in those days, you had to really fight for respect.
Stabler was Joe Montana before Montana. Montana often said Stabler was the guy he tried to be like and that was someone he looked up to. Stabler was a master at game management and his pinpoint passing accuracy was of legend. Because the Raiders were so good he never got the credit for being as great as he was and that often bothered other players, but not the Snake. Remember this was during the time where there are no HD high speed camera and videos on the sidelines. No radio transmitters in the helmets, and Quarterbacks actually did call their own plays. From Stabler to John Madden, to Ron Wolf to Al Davis; they all told the media the same thing. We don’t care what the other team does; we are going to do what we do and they can’t stop us. Supreme confidence with results.
Players often have wondered how someone as great as the Snake could not be in the hall of fame. My friend Tim Castro who I really enjoy; founder of Raiders Homeport; reminded me of a nasty situation between Stabler and quality sports writer Bob Padecky. There were rumors of a set up and many felt that if not Bob, then writers around the country helped ruin Stablers reputation and tried to keep him out of the hall of fame. They did not want to be intimidated into writing fluff pieces on athletes. Ken Stabler is still the only Super Bowl winning QB of the 1970’s not in the HOF. He’s also the only all decade QB not to be elected into the hall. Travesty.
I rarely get into twitter wars but I got into 2 of them yesterday. Two clueless east coast writers said Stabler wasn’t all that talented. Are you kidding me? Bear Bryant, the Alabama coaching Icon called Stabler the greatest quarterback he ever coached. John Madden said the same thing and said even today if he needed to have one quarterback for one drive, he’d pick Ken Stabler to run that drive. Raider hater and Denver Bronco great Tom Jackson said Stabler was as good as any QB to ever play the game.
We fans are too young but what about the 1967 “Run in the Mud” Stabler did to beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl when he was at Alabama? His 53 yard run was the longest of the season and is a Crimson Tide legend. The Sea of Hands game; the Holy Roller; Ghost to the Post and the countless other games that he lead comebacks in. In fact if the call were reversed, Stabler would have won the game in the Immaculate Reception fiasco with his long run for a touchdown against the Steelers.
Some say the Snake didn’t have the numbers. It was a different game then though. The rules allowed defenders to do anything they wanted to quarterbacks and wide receivers and passing wasn’t a huge part of the game. It got so crazy with the violence that Chuck Knoll once called the Oakland Police Department to arrest Jack Tatum and George Atkinson for assault. It isn’t like today where Wide Receivers roam free skipping over the middle like school kids while QB’s can’t be touched. The numbers you see now are comical and the passing game is much easier.
Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton reiterated that yesterday on KNBR. “In fact a rule change changed the NFL. After the 1979 Season, the NFL stopped allowing players to hit Wide Receivers after 5 yards down the field. This literally was directly attributed to George Atkinson and Jack Tatum. This made the game much more wide open and easier for quarterbacks.”
The 70’s also was the most talented era of all time. The Steel Curtain; the Doomsday Defense; The Orange Crush; the Purple People Eaters; the No Name Defense; no era was dominated with so much talent in NFL history. There was no salary cap and teams were loaded with talent. In one game in the 70’s between the Steelers and Raiders there were 21 future hall of fame players, owners and coaches on the field. Try naming 10 hall of famers in a game today. I usually don’t hold grudges but I will always hold a grudge against the Hall of Fame Voting Committee for not voting the Snake in while he was still alive.
Someone close to my heart; my friend Mike Yokum; has lead a valiant effort to try and get Kenny Stabler into the Hall of Fame. Anyone reading this article hopefully will take one minute to sign his petition.
“It may sound corny”, Mike said, “but Kenny’s effect on my childhood was profound. Just this week I received some signed merchandise from him. He thought of me even though he was dying. I didn’t even know he was sick. He was so giving. A man’s man to the end.”
Tim Castro also gave light on what he thought would happen in regards to the hall of fame. “He was born to be a Raider. I think this finally will be the year that he gets into the Hall of Fame. People forget that Ken was the 3rd fastest to get to 100 wins taking only 150 games. If you look only at his statistics as a Raider, they are pretty amazing. People also overlook what a kind man he was. He was very giving and did a lot through his great foundation and many other charities that he helped. The Steelers and Rooney family; the Raiders hated rivals; are actually pushing for Ken to be in the hall of fame and they have a lot of pull”.
After I sat for a few hours and just kind of wondered about things I thought to myself, what would the Snake tell me now if he were here. I then imagined Ken Stabler’s voice; a cool guy with his smooth southern accent say,
“Jim I’ve had a wonderful life; I had 3 amazing daughters that are the light of my eye and the beat of my heart; I have grandkids that make me proud every minute of the day; I played for the greatest organization and college in sports in front of the greatest fans in the world. I have loved and lived hard. I had fun every step of my life and now I’m with my maker with no more pain or worries. So get up and go live life to the fullest and don’t worry about me. Live it with a wink in one eye and a twinkle in the other. I’m fine.”
All of a sudden I smiled broadly, quickly got up and I felt like a million bucks. I walked half way up the hill stopped and looked up into the sky into the lights across the water. For some reason I took a picture although it was pitch black, and said out loud, “Thanks Kenny. For everything.”
Like I said. A leader and true southern gentleman to the end.