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Here is my interview with the amazing Host Ryan Fowler on 99.1 The Game on why Ken Stabler did NOT get into the NFL Hall of Fame until now.
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Friday it was released that several former Oakland Raiders had agreed to have their brains studied upon their death. They did this through the encouragement of Ken’s longtime partner, Kim Ross-Bush. They wanted to follow him in helping to further the study of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in the hopes of helping future players. Still today, Ken still is the leader of the dynasty that was the 1970’s Oakland Raiders.
The Stabler Family Tells Their Story:
Kim Ross-Bush, the partner of Ken Stabler for over 16 years; tells the story of how Ken deteriorated over time. His daughter Marissa also talks about the changes in her father. ESPN’s Outside the Lines is a great show and I really enjoyed the piece it did a while back on Ken and his struggles with CTE.
You are already seeing players starting to retire at earlier ages in fear of the long term damage football may have on them.
In a groundbreaking move, the Ivy League coaches voted to eliminate tackling in practices. Instead they use tackling dummies, bags, and even use tackling robots. Coaches from around the country are limiting contact in College football. What’s interesting is the Ivy league now says their tackling techniques are much better and more fundamentally sound and the list of injuries have dropped dramatically.
I remember in 2009 being asked to do a house call to check up on a patient who was really struggling with his sleep equipment and his quality of sleep. I immediately remembered the name. I’m a huge history guy and I did a check and found out it was the former NFL player that I thought it was.
When I walked into their house his wife was as kind as could be. She offered me a piece of cake and coffee and I loved it. Her husband was a little shocked I knew so much about him and it obviously made him feel good. When I left his wife walked me out. At the door she gave me a bottle of wine and was near tears. “Thank you so much; you made him smile and that hasn’t happened much. Please come visit again soon”. I told her I would be by next week.
A week later I showed up and it was like a light turned off. He sat in a somewhat dark room looking out a window; something he did for hours sometimes. He was rude, irritable and he couldn’t remember a thing we discussed. I laughed at the start because I thought he was teasing me but he wasn’t. He talked about his headaches and his sleep being so intermittent that he would be exhausted all the time. It was hinted he knew he was damaged and he didn’t want to know the truth. CTE was barely known publicly in 2009.
His wife explained this was their life. A tornado of emotions with little joy and hope at times. I tried calling them once but their number had changed & was unlisted, so I never heard from them again and found out they moved. Even today the picture of him sitting in a darkened room alone can bring me to tears.
Owners Still Don’t Get It:
Jerry Jones was quoted last week that he was not convinced there was a link between CTE and concussions. I’m sure many owners have their doubts especially when it may cost them money to take care of the problem. Jerry Jones needs to read research and stop acting like a fool. Another “my opinion is greater than facts” guy. Money doesn’t make you smart. It’s the same callousness the NFL showed during the 2009 concussion hearings at Congress.
In the 2014 settlement against the NFL, in a rare action, the Judge was so appalled at the NFL’s offer that he overturned it. The NFL said to trust their math. Most of what the NFL has done, they were made to do.
What Has the NFL Done to Help With CTE’s:
Many say I’m too hard on the NFL. They bring up the 88 plan championed by CTE legend Gay Culverhouse, former President of Tampa Bay. It’s true; it gives $130,000 a year to players that qualify but read the fine print because I did; the one disorder it DOESN’T cover? CTE.
The Alumni Association is also working with corporations to set up retirement places catered to NFL players. In the medical field the dirty secret is that many feel this is going to be a huge money maker in the future with so many NFL players having to deal with brain issues. Soccer players are now having issues with CTE. Brandi Chastain has agreed to donate her brain as well.
The owners have given money for research and also changed the rules protecting players more. It has changed the game drastically allowing for huge numbers by quarterbacks and wide receivers but it had to be done.
The NFL also has adopted a much stricter concussion protocol but it’s already seen failures. Rams QB Case Keenum hit his head on the turf against Baltimore last year and staggered off the field. After talking to the trainer, he was shockingly let back in the game to finish it. Afterwards he was diagnosed with a concussion. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to his credit admitted they made a mistake. Damage done though.
I remember watching film of the 1976 Raiders year in review. In week 9 the Raiders played at Chicago. The astroturf there was like cement especially when it was cold. Ken Stabler got a concussion and wobbled off the field. Eventually he came back into the game leading the Raiders to victory. You wonder how many times since he was a kid did that happen to Ken.
Breakthrough in CTE Testing?
The problem with CTE is that you can’t diagnose it while the player is alive. When UCLA lead researcher Dr. Julian Bailes said they had a test that could diagnose CTE in living people, many questioned his findings. The problem with anything in medicine is greed. If this is true, they stand to make millions. Some say that within 3-5 years it will be able to be done. The controversy continues but when they can test players, it can give them a better option into getting out of the game or staying in it.
Should Kid’s Play Football:
One of the key factors with CTE is the duration you take hits. Usually the longer you play, the worse it is. Ken Stabler; like many NFL athletes; played as a kid. You have to limit the length, and the severity of the damage. Some think teaching good fundamental tackling is the answer but it’s not. When you hit the ground or get hit; good tackle or not; your head is going to jar. Its’ like having a minor car accident several times a day.
I think that kids should not play organized tackle football until they are 13 years old. I also believe that at the most, teams need to have only 1 contact day of practice per week; or 90 minutes.
The State of Texas that brought you “Friday Night Lights” and built a 60 million dollar stadium in the city of Allen, is surprisingly the leader in protecting players. In 2013, the University Interscholastic League in Texas; the group that makes the rules for high school football; voted to limit contact in practices to 90 minutes a week. Some said this would ruin Texas football but it hasn’t changed their dominance in any way.
Between 2005 and 2014, 92 high school football players died. Some by direct contact, and others by things associated with football. What’s shocking though is that almost ALL states have NO medical regulations mandating high school football teams to have ANY trained medical staff on the field at any time. Some parents have sued school districts for having their kids lying on a field waiting long periods of time for qualified people to help their kids. That HAS to change. They don’t have to have an ambulance on staff, or a doctor or EMT’s or professional trainers. Epic fail. This has to change.
I remember in football crazy Napa, California where I grew up, (who ESPN voted had the #2 high school stadium in the country 6 years ago) they always had an ambulance in one of the end zones at Memorial Stadium and EMT professionals at the games. It helped save one of my friends who actually broke his neck during a game. He wasn’t paralyzed but he fractured his neck and the quality care on the field saved him. I hope they still have that same support there now.
The sad part is, we need to have a sure way of diagnosing players while they are alive, and we need to know how better to protect them. Even if helmets evolved, the jarring of the brain from the hits and hitting the ground are still going to cause damage so it’s a difficult thing to fix.
What also is scary, is that ALS; or Lou Gehrigs disease has also been linked to long term head trauma seen in sports like football. University of Alabama player Kevin Turner just passed away at the age of 46; of ALS. He played 8 years in the NFL.
CTE is the scary ghost hiding in the closet that players and their families fear. Fans and the media need to get involved. Some didn’t support the cheerleaders fight to get minimum wage. Many fans didn’t support referees wanting better training and to be full time employees. The NFL said both were too expensive. Add the lack of support to retired players by some as well. In my mind it’s disrespecting the game and those that are associated with it by not respecting everyone that was in it.
All fans and media people associated with the NFL who really care about this wonderful game and the people in it need to act. Some in the NFL media won’t because they feel backlash from their networks. We need the NFL to know the lack of support is unacceptable. The 88 plan needs to include CTE. Support research and retired players rights. Show compassion and kindness instead of saying, “well if they don’t want to die early then don’t play”. The players gave their all; now we need to give ours.
The NFL has shown they will NOT do the right thing unless they are made to. It’s time that fans now become the voices of the voiceless. Ken Stabler and all of the players that suffered in silence; along with their families that experienced it; deserve our support. No more Dave Duerson stories. A man that texted family to let them know he wanted his brain studied after he shot himself in the chest. He didn’t want others to go through the torment he did. No more retired players holding their heads in pain or looking out windows in darkened rooms wondering in sadness what was happening to them. We can’t expect the NFL to do the right thing to these fathers, son’s, grandfathers and brothers, if we don’t. The NFL has shown it will listen but we have to speak.
The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.
The last 2 weeks I read 14 articles from 2015 on Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie. They were from professional writers to homer Raider bloggers to ESPN and NFL.com. Only ONE said keep Reggie McKenzie as a GM. Oh how the seasons have changed.
The Ron Wolf Effect:
When most fans and many writers wanted Reggie McKenzie fired, I said to give him time. I ripped on his poor moves as well but I also trust success. The reason I said don’t fire Reggie was NOT because of Reggie McKenzie. It was because of Ron Wolf. Ron Wolf taught and mentored Reggie when he was at Green Bay.
When I wrote an article on the greatest Raider of all time, ¾ of the fans that read it didn’t even know who Ron Wolf was. I remember my dad raving about him when I was a kid and beyond. Wolf was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame along with Tim Brown. Wolf continues to be excited about McKenzie as a GM.
On a frigid day right before Christmas in 1967, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Joe Kuharich was asked about the angry boo’s in the stands after a tough loss. “I pay little attention to the 60,000 assistants in the stands each Sunday. If you listen to the fans, eventually you’ll be sitting with them”.
Reggie didn’t listen to fans and the media when they ripped him and he’s not listening to them now when they are praising him. If you read your own press clippings you’ll start to believe them. He smartly always limited his interaction with everyone just like Ron Wolf did. Something most coaches and athletes should do more.
The Changing Atmosphere Surrounding Him:
We all do it; we are emotional about something and then we write or post something on social media that we later regret. Either it was too harsh or nasty. We didn’t really feel that way but it was just a knee jerk reaction out of disappointment or anger.
It’s funny to see many of the “strongest” we’ll say detractors of Reggie McKenzie now turning the other way. People wonder why most “experts”, “insiders”, mock draft gurus, NFL draft gurus, (and many fans and social media masters for that matter); rarely talk about their past predictions unless it’s the ones they got right. It’s because they don’t want the accountability and they are often wrong. You hear them on radio talk shows, online, and social media. They are often wrong but never in doubt. Again, it’s ok to be wrong sometimes but if you are wrong most of the time; then use your inside voice.
I say this because many of his early detractors forgot that Reggie McKenzie had to fix a train wreck and he’s done pretty well so far. I said it years ago when McKenzie was hired and fans were telling me how good the Raiders were. No they were wrong; this wasn’t a good team for a long time. No,they didn’t have a lot of talent. No, giving these draft picks time was not going to make them good. The Raiders were a mess and I said this would be a 4-5 year process; that’s how bad this organization was and I think the Raiders are right on schedule.
The Al Davis Effect; Reggie Fixes the Mess:
The teams of the 1970’s especially were loaded. In the greatest era of the NFL, the players didn’t make much money. Many had outside ventures. The teams could spend as much money as they wanted and many teams had backups that could start for other teams. Running a team was easier.
With a financial mess, Reggie McKenzie had a very difficult job. In the new era of the NFL, there is the salary cap, partially guaranteed contracts and some players are making a lot of money. Reggie McKenzie had to fix the bad situation the Raiders were in and rebuild. You then have to fight the media and the fans that have no patience. In today’s internet age, patience is waiting for lunch time when it’s 10 a.m. in the morning.
Mr. Davis was overpaying underachieving players, and he drafted very poorly. Al Davis became obsessed with NFL combine numbers and size; especially 40 times; and it destroyed the Raiders. Their list of bad draft picks; ESPECIALLY most of their Defensive Back Picks with the fast 40 times; are of legend. When you don’t watch game films and pass up on the Calvin Johnsons’, Adrian Peterson’s and Aaron Rodgers, you are failing.
McKenzie was not in denial though. He didn’t have Al Davis’ new mentality. Mr. Davis was in denial like some of the fans were every year; “we are really good and we just need 1-2 key players.” In reality for a long time the Raiders were NOT really good and they needed to rebuild. It was like building a house but denying you have a bad foundation. You were constantly adding floors or making over a room to make it look better when in reality it didn’t change a thing. Reggie McKenzie got that you have to destroy the foundation and build a new one. Let’s look at how he has done that in Oakland.
Reggie McKenzie’s Draft History:
Just like his signings, overall his drafts have improved with time. The DJ Hayden pick made no sense especially when DT Star Lotulelei had fallen in their lap. Hayden was another athlete playing football. Some of the “experts” had Hayden as the best CB in the draft. I watched Houston play a few times and was shocked. What were they watching? To see Lotulelei starting for the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl was painful. McKenzie improved with time though and he’s picked up their QB and other key members along the way.
The 2014 draft was the start of the rejuvenating of the Raiders. Five of the draft choices ended up being starters who mostly excelled. Last year’s draft shows a lot of promise as well. It’s a far cry from where the Raiders were in his first 2 years and it’s the core of their success.
Some fans are now going the other way making McKenzie out to be a genius but as I always say, let’s deal with the facts. The bad signings McKenzie has made are in abundance. Matt Schaub, Matt Flynn, LaMarr Woodley, Curtis Lofton, Nate Allen, Shawntae Spencer, Andre Hardy, Antonio Smith, Tarell Brown, Maurice Jones-Drew, Roy Helu Jr., Carlos Rogers, Pat Lee, Mike Brisiel, Kevin Boothe, Ron Bartell, Colin Miller, and Dave Tollefson were just some of the epic fails the Raiders had in free agency.
Even with a couple of good pick-ups, his first 2 years of free agency was a nightmare for Reggie McKenzie. Fast forwarding to 2014 the Raiders had an ok free agent class with more misses than hits. The big miss was Lamar Woodley who much was expected of. Donald Penn though was a key contributor with this class.
In 2015 the Raiders overall did a good job in free agency. Dan Williams and Rodney Hudson were great additions and Lee Smith was a bulldozer as a run blocking tight end that also caught some passes. Malcolm Smith had his first year as a starter go fairly well. He tailed off late in the year especially against the run.
On the bad side, Roy Helu Jr. was never used properly and was a waste of a signing. Curtis Lofton struggled mightily against the pass and Trent Richardson didn’t last long. A lot was given to Nate Allen but he struggled tackling all year; and that was when he wasn’t injured.
The 2016 free agent class is already a very good one and there still are signings that are ahead. This has already been the Raiders best free agent signing period; at least on paper; that they have had since Reggie was hired. The longer Reggie has the job, the better he gets.
How Reggie McKenzie Grew Into a Good GM:
McKenzie is humble; and as a good leader you take the blame and admit your mistakes. Many in sports; and life for that matter; don’t do that. When you admit a mistake you can fix it. His signing of players which are salary cap friendly and dropping them if they don’t work out is often greatly overlooked.
A huge mistake Reggie fixed was that in the early part of his career he would wait way too long to sign players. He would say they weren’t going to be hasty in their signings but sometimes the Raiders got stuck with slim pickings in free agency because they were just too slow to sign players.
He also improved his draft. After talking to Ron Wolf, he went back to getting football players. The defensive line has always been the second most important part of your team behind a QB and they’ve spent lots of money and energy into the DL. The Quarterback must go down, and go down hard was Ron Wolf & Al Davis’ motto.
What’s Next For Reggie and the Raiders:
As Reggie said last month, there is still much work for the Raiders to do and they haven’t won anything yet. The Raiders don’t have the DL or the pass rush to win at a high level in the NFL yet, but the off season is still young. Bruce Irvin has 14 sacks in the last 3 years and Mario Edwards is not a great pass rusher; and that’s if he comes back at all. Aldon Smith is out for most of the year too. It doesn’t matter who your DB’s are if you don’t have a pass rush. I now have trust that McKenzie will not be in denial and the draft will yield another quality DL. I would love to see either AShawn Robinson or Shaq Lawson drafted in the first round. Mock drafts are all over the place so as always, they don’t know what players the teams are going to draft and neither do we. If you get either one of these players, now you have something special. Both have great work ethics and are hard workers.
The Raiders also need a safety and other bits and pieces. They are not done in free agency yet and the NFL draft is also ahead. The salary cap limits how good you can be; that’s the design; to create parity. So the drafts are a key to success.
Overall though as time passes, Reggie McKenzie has improved every year he has been a GM. Reggie McKenzie is definitely old school and as long as he doesn’t change and he keeps being humble and open minded, he will be fine. Not everything works out so admitting mistakes and learning from them are huge keys to his success. The nightmare of 13 straight non-winning seasons may finally be over and success seems to now be a probability and not just a hope.
This article is for the fans of the AFL especially the AFC West. If you are a fan of these great teams, some of these players may be household names to you. It’s so important that the history of the game is respected, and these great players are not forgotten. This article is in honor of them, and the fans that watched the AFL.
San Diego Chargers:
Many think the Chargers uniforms of the 1960’s and 70’s are the greatest ever made and it’s hard to argue with that. I love the powder blue. What also can’t be argued is their dominating win in the AFL Championship game in 1963 sealing their argument as one of the great teams of the AFL era. Their innovative passing game was nixed for a power running game, and it worked to perfection as the Chargers beat the Boston Patriots 51-10.
Sid Gillman may be the greatest football coach of all time. He is the only coach in history that is in both the NFL and College football Hall of Fame. His coaching tree is the greatest of all time bar none. Bill Walsh, Al Davis, Chuck Knoll, Chuck Knox, Dick Vermeil, Don Coryell, Joe Gibbs, John Madden, Tom Flores, George Seifert, Dennis Green, Jon Gruden, Brian Billick and many others fall under his umbrella of greatness.
The vertical passing game of the Raiders was taken straight from him. Al Davis called him the Einstein of the NFL and he is the father of the modern passing game. There will never be another Sid Gillman. As John Madden recently said, “what some teams are just discovering, Sid Gillman was doing in the 60’s”.
San Diego’s version of Fred Biletnikoff was the great Gary Garrison. Lance Alworth gets all of the publicity but in reality the Chargers had another fine Wide Receiver. His nickname was the ghost. Sid Gillman literally called him an artist in regards to his amazing route running skills. One sports writer said it was like watching a figure skater on a football field; his routes were so precise.
He is 5th and 4th all time on the Chargers reception and yards list respectively. He has more receiving yards than Kellen Winslow and Wes Chandler. He averaged an amazing 18.6 yards a catch which is second all time for San Diego pass catchers with over 120 catches.
Paul Lowe & Keith Lincoln:
With Paul Lowe and Keith Lincoln in the backfield, San Diego had one of the greatest 1-2 punches in pro football history. They helped lead the Chargers to their only championship in 1963. Lowe is the 2nd all time leader in rushing yards for the Chargers. He was the 1965 UPI AFL MVP, 2 times AFL All Star, and 2 times All AFL team. He was also voted onto the ALL time AFL team, 2 times comeback player of the year, and he’s the all-time AFL leader in average yards per carry at 4.9. And he still holds the NFL record for 6 straight 100 yard games with 14 or fewer carries.
And oh by the way they had Keith Lincoln. He went to high school in Monrovia California and went to Washington St. Originally he was a QB, and he was so good that he got two awesome nicknames; the Monrovia Meteor and the Moose of the Palouse. He was a 5 time AFL All-Star, 2 time All AFL player, and is in the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame.
Paul Lowe can still be seen today at the Chargers games. He is a season ticket holder and a fan favorite.
Kansas City Chiefs:
The Chiefs have had an amazing history of talented teams with some of the greatest players to ever play football. Buchanon, Dawson, Taylor, Lanier, Culp, Thomas, Holmes; the list goes on and on. When eclectic head coach Hank Stram allowed NFL films to record him during the Super Bowl, he became the first NFL coach to wear a microphone. Stram was innovative and brought in the triple stack defense to hide his linebackers. When he had several WR’s injured against the Raiders powerful pass rush and great DB’s; he used the T formation and ran 60 times for over 300 yards leading KC to a stunning 24-10 victory over Oakland. In that game, Len Dawson completed 3 passes for 16 yards. In the AFL days they lead the AFL in playoff appearances tied with the Raiders. Hank Stram was as great as the players he coached and boy was he fun.
If you would allow me an exception, I wanted to add a player that didn’t play in the AFL days, but someone who isn’t remembered enough. Just the mention of this players name can still bring a smile and a tear to some ex-players, coaches and fans eyes. He was headed for greatness.
His acts of generosity and kindness are still of legend. So are his acts on the football field. A Raider beat writer once said, “There is fast and then there is Joe Delaney fast”. He was a game breaking type of player who could catch the ball and run like the wind. With a strike shortened season and an eye injury, he only played 1 ½ years but he was amazing. He had 196 yards rushing against Houston and ran for 1121 yards his rookie year while getting the Rookie of the Year Award and making the Pro Bowl.
He once ran 75 yards for a touchdown but it was called back. Two plays later he ran for an 82 yard touchdown. Sadly, while trying to save 3 boys that were drowning, Delaney never got out of the water and died. He could not swim but he could not sit by and watch them die and do nothing. Only 1 of the boys made it. Joe received the US Presidential Citizens Medal from President Reagan and should always be remembered as being a real man, and a person that the NFL and their fans can be proud of.
If you are a big fan of the AFL or a Chiefs fan, you are saying how come Ed’s on this list? Well outside of KC many of today’s fans are clueless to how great of a player Podolak was. His occasional wildness off the field after his playing days gets some publicity at times but in reality Chiefs Running Back Ed Podolak was one heck of a football player. With his hooked bar helmet, he looked like a red bull chasing after people. He could catch, run, return kicks, and block. He was an all purpose back that could do it all.
He is the 5th all-time Chiefs RB in regards to rushing yards, and the 10th leading pass catcher of all time. He was also a quality return man that made many clutch kick returns. His wars against the Raiders and their bulldozer RB Marv Hubbard were must see tv and some of the most physical games ever played.
Nicknamed Thunderfoot, Jerrel Wilson was flat out one of the greatest punters of all time. Often overshadowed in the all time punter conversation due to the greatness of Ray Guy, his booming and towering punts were a thing of beauty. Ray Guy and Wilson transformed the punting game into an offensive weapon in regards to controlling field position.
He was a 3 time pro bowler and on the all AFL team, and in one year avg. 46.1 yards per punt. He also did it in the clutch. To punt when your team isn’t very good or if nothing is at stake is one thing but to do in when it counts is another. His greatness should not be forgotten.
For a 25 year period, the Raiders winning % was far and away better than any professional sports team in the U.S. In their first 20 Monday night football games they were 18-1-1. In the greatest decade of the NFL; the 1970’s; they had the most wins. In the NFL.com fan poll of the greatest teams ever a few years ago, the 1976 Oakland Raiders were voted the greatest team of all time by over 5.5 million NFL fans.
In QB Daryle Lamonica’s first 45 games as a Raider (after a trade from Buffalo) the Raiders were an unreal 40-4-1. His successor; Ken Stabler; was 56-13 in his first 69 games.
For 3 decades 2 teams were almost always on top of the television ratings charts in the NFL. The Cowboys and the Raiders. The 2 teams people loved to hate. For a time the Cowboys were America’s team and the Raiders were the renegades of the NFL with talent to back it up. Those days seem light years away. They moved to Los Angeles which slowly eroded their tough blue collar Oakland persona, and the violence at games along with the small crowds, eroded their mystique. Their style of play changed and they’ve never been the same. It’s sad because few teams in the NFL boast a higher level of talent in their great history. No team in history was more crazy, wild, talented, and colorful as the Oakland Raiders.
(below is the article on the 1976 Raiders chosen as the greatest NFL team of all time)
(please support and follow the AFL Godfather on twitter @NFLMAVERICK I got this video from his public page but I’d really appreciate if you’d support him. He has great stuff from the past! Thank you!)
“The greatest player I ever coached was Warren Wells. I never saw anyone that gifted and that fast”.
Former Raiders Head Coach John Madden
On December 6, 1970, Warren Wells made an unreal catch on the last field play of the game to beat the Jets 14-13. His catch against 2 Jet defenders would make Houdini applaud. Wells was that good.
This is still one of Ronnie Lott’s favorite all-time players. If you talk to any player of the 1960’s, the one player that always amazed them was Warren Wells. For a 3 ½ year period, he struck terror in the eyes of all teams. He unfortunately was one of only 2 NFL players who were drafted and made to go to the Vietnam war in 1965.
He was as fast as lightning and just as gifted. Before the NFL changed the statistic criteria, Warren Wells was the all time leader in yards per catch at an inhuman 23.3 yards a reception. In one year he caught 47 balls for an incredible 27 yards per reception. He and Daryle Lamonica; The Mad Bomber; were the originators of Al Davis’ feared vertical game.
Due to off the field issues and an ankle injury, Wells career was cut short. He straightened up his life after doing prison time during his younger days, and last year was honored by lighting the Al Davis torch at one of the Raiders home games.
He was the anchor of the famous “11 Angry Men” Oakland Raiders defense and was a key player of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Tom Keating was one of the best defensive linemen in AFL history. He was a 2 time AFL all star and on the all time AFL 2nd team member. He played so hard that a story was written about him when the Raiders played the Packers in Super Bowl II. He was a part of the famous 1967 Raiders defense that caused a record 667 yards in losses on 67 sacks. They remain one of the greatest and most unheralded defenses of all time.
He was talented and tough. Off the field he was a fan favorite and very happy go lucky. He was a bay area guy and lived and died here. Many feel that if he didn’t have such bad knees that he was a hall of famer for sure.
There are many that feel Dave Grayson is a Hall of Famer. Dave played for Oakland between 1965-1970. He played for the Dallas Texans/Chiefs before that, and was originally signed by the Dallas Cowboys. Grayson was an undrafted free agent out of the University of Oregon. Tom Landry felt he was too small and not physical enough so he was let got and Hank Stram gave him a shot and he stuck.
Al Davis Traded for CB Dave Grayson in 1965 (he traded him for future actor Fred “The Hammer” Williamson) from the Chiefs and then traded for Willie Brown from Denver in 1967. This allowed the Raiders to play the physical bump and run style that has been a trademark of the team for years.
When NFL and former Cowboys personnel guru Gil Brandt was asked who were the 4 best cornerbacks in Dallas history his first 3 were not a shock. Mel Renfro, Herb Adderly & Deion Sanders. “I also include Dave Grayson. He didn’t play with the Cowboys but he’s so good I’m including him.”
A little known fact that may buy you a drink someday if you are a Denver fan is that many of the AFL teams didn’t have much money to start with. The Broncos first uniforms were actually mustard yellow and brown. Why was that you say? The reason they were that color is that the Broncos wanted to save money so they bought the used uniforms off of the University of Wyoming football team and used them for a year. It saved them thousands of dollars. Wyoming were upgrading their uniforms so they were available. They then got a designer to make a new uniform the following season.
One of the many crazy and memorable stories of the AFL is the one about Bronco great Frank Tribucka. Tribucka was the father of Notre Dame and NBA player Kelly Tribucka. Frank was a Notre Dame legend. At 33 years old he had played for several teams in the NFL, Canada, and AFL and he came to the expansion Broncos to be a coach after retiring. During the last pre-season game they asked him to play to sell a few tickets. He then started the next week as the Broncos QB and played for the next 3 years.
In his first year he threw for 34 interceptions (still a Denver Bronco’s record) but also became the first QB in NFL or AFL history to throw for over 3,000 yards in a season. Against the Bills he threw for over 447 yards in a game; a Bronco record that stood for over 38 years. Frank had a great personality and was very popular and will always be a part of the AFL lore.
Goose was as tough as nails. In a day and age where the game was so physical, he played in an amazing 61 straight games for the Broncos. He is third all time in the AFL for interceptions with 43 and has the AFL record for most interceptions in a game with 4. Gonsoulin is also still 2nd all time in Denver Broncos history in interceptions only 1 behind leader Steve Foley. He was a 6 time AFL all star and was voted on the AFL’s all time 2nd team.
In his first 6 years with Denver, he had an amazing 43 interceptions, 542 return yards with 2 brought back for touchdowns. A fun loving, true great of the AFL era.
Rich “Tombstone” Jackson:
Another guy that doesn’t get his due is Rich Tombstone Jackson. He was the first real great pass rusher in Denver history. He was very physical and Lyle Alzado of all people called him the toughest man he ever met. Just another of the all time great players that never got his due. He was way before his time and mastered the head slap and many other moves to the dismay of the NFL.
He was a 2x AFL All Star, 2x AFL All Pro and voted second team on the all time AFL team. As with many players of his day before modern knee surgeries, he tore his knee and had to retire early from football. Many believe he was the best pass rusher of that era and that without injury he was heading into the NFL Hall of Fame. While Deacon Jones got all of the publicity, Jackson quietly tormented opponents. It’s sad he’s never mentioned more.
With so many people lacking any knowledge of the past in our social media mentality of today, it’s important for all of us to remember the great players of yesteryear. These are players from the AFC West but obviously the AFL had amazing teams and athletes from New York and Buffalo to San Diego. My father talked to me often about the greatness of the AFL. From the Titans and Texans, to the Bills and Raiders, AFL lore has so many amazing players and stories. I hope that we never forget the greatness of the AFL and more and more groups are created to discuss such amazing memories that we enjoyed with our parents and grandparents.
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.
Marissa: @JimJaxMedia Thank you so much for honoring my dad with such beautiful words.
“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 John Boy Walton in me. For this I don’t cry much in front of people and I try to be strong. And to be honest I never cry over a celebrity or an athlete’s death. Famous people have never impressed me that much and when people drop their names I just kind of shrug. 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 that shocked me.
Kenny Stabler; Snake; passed away yesterday at the age of 69 due to complications of stage 4 colon cancer sending a shock wave 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. As an adult I would often write both numbers on professional contracts at the bottom of pages. 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.
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 to make sure they were right. That is unreal. That’s greatness.
The Stabler Kindness:
Stabler’s generation is amazing. Many times under the darkest of circumstances, they are so selfless. This is seen especially in sickness and death. When he was sick he didn’t want to be a burden and again, was as selfless and giving as a man can be. 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.
I often feel bad for his daughters, grand kids & his long time Partner Kim 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 fans were close to the players but the most beloved player of them all was Ken Stabler. Mix part Clint Eastwood, part Johnny Cash, part Sammy Baugh 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 they were extremely biased. There were times that you would get more coverage about the Jets and Yankees than you did on your local teams. If they covered the Raiders, it usually wasn’t very positive.
The Raiders were flat out hated; by everyone; including some in the media. 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 media often said there was a reason for their apathy towards Oakland. “The Raiders and Ken Stabler 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. 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 Snake. Remember this was during the time where there are no HD high speed camera and videos on the sidelines, or radio transmitters in the helmets. 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 Stabler could not be in the Hall of Fame. My friend Tim Casto 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 drug set up and most writers supported Bob and turned on Snake. Writers around the country helped ruin Stabler’s reputation and tried to keep him out of the hall of fame. They said 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 Snake didn’t have the numbers but it was a different game then. 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 Casto 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 then 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.
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