Rod Serling would love this story. Pull up a chair, get a drink and sit back. This is a wild one.
In the annals of sports, the behind the scenes power and bias of sportswriters is of legend. In baseball it’s out in the open, but in the NFL it’s a little harder to see.
From the Oakland A’s Mike Norris not getting a Cy Young award to the great Cris Carter not being voted into the hall of fame 5 times; writers have a way of getting the last laugh.
Enter the legendary story of Bob Padecky.
A California Thing:
Bob Padecky was an award winning writer for the Sacramento Bee. He was covering the Raiders during the 70’s and 80’s and he wanted to talk to Ken Stabler. After the 1978 season, Ken was coming off what would be his worst year in Oakland. The Raiders were 9-7 that year which was a near tragedy at that time for a team that ended the 1970’s with the most regular season wins of any NFL team. Ken was frustrated and said that he would talk after the season was over.
Bob said he went to the 1979 New Years day Sugarbowl between Penn St. and Alabama. He decided that since New Orleans was not far from Alabama, that he would just drive over there. For some reason he just went.
Ken wasn’t happy when Bob showed up unannounced. He said he did not want to talk. Bob then said I’m going to go to Foley, AL (where Ken is from) and Gulf Shores and talk to people. Ken said, “I wish you wouldn’t do that Bob, but if you are; just talk to me”. Bob refused, and then left. So much for wanting to talk.
Padecky came back and did a three part story on Ken’s issues; mostly what he said was how Stabler was partying too much and wasn’t in shape. Bob felt it wasn’t all that bad (writers never do) but Ken and his friends were not amused. Bob also said others made remarks about Ken and his private life including how he should marry the woman he was with, and not just play around. It may be tame for today’s standards, but at the time it was not taken lightly.
The Cocaine Bust:
Stabler called Padecky during Super Bowl week and said he wanted to spill his guts. He wanted to confront some of the things he was going through with Al Davis including Al blaming many of the Raiders failures on him and now not wanting to pay him.
Padecky flew over the day after the Super Bowl to meet with Snake. They met at Lefty’s; a restaurant Stabler partially owned; and eventually ended up at the Silver Dollar Lounge.
When they finally sat down, Kenny was not happy. With Ken was Kenny Walker, a 250 pound ex Alabama center. Along with him was Randall Watson; a convicted bank robber in 1971 who had recently plead guilty to trying to extort $75,000 from an Alabama telephone executive.
Ken asked Padecky why he was out to get him. “I never met anyone like you”, Ken said. “Why are you coming to my hometown trying to dig up dirt?”.
During the conversation Bob had the tape recorder rolling without asking Ken if he could tape their discussion. I didn’t think this was cool and I always thought reporters would ask the people they interviewed if it was ok to tape the conversation. Ken got mad again cussing occasionally and then took another call. He said I’m sorry I have to go and told him to meet him at a different restaurant.
Stabler left and Bob got up and walked outside to his rental car. As he did, officers were there and arrested him. When he asked what for, they told him that an anonymous caller said that he was carrying cocaine. People forget that in the 70’s, some were doing prison time for having small amounts of pot, so cocaine was the big time. An officer looked under one of the wheel wells of the car and found a magnetic key holder with cocaine in it. Bob was taken to the police department to be booked.
The Nightmare As Bob Padecky Tells It:
He implied that they did a full cavity search and threatened him saying that they were going to ask for the hardest sentence the judge could hand down. He called the Sac Bee Managing Editor Frank McCulloch and went into his cell. Another cop, Cotton Long came up and said I think you were set up. They escorted him to his hotel where he talked more with Police Chief Jimmy Maples who had a .357 magnum in his hand. In future investigations, no arrest record was ever found.
Maples called out several patrol cars to stake out the area and protect them. Officer Long came into the room and said that rumors were swirling Padecky’s life might be in danger and that he has to leave immediately. They offered a police escort to the airport and he took it. Padecky said Maples then got a machine gun and (insert pun now) rode shotgun and told him to move away from the window just in case someone pulled up beside them so he could shoot them if they tried anything.
They drove him to the tarmac of the plane and he left. Padecky immediately began writing the story which broke to shock and outrage nationwide. Sportswriters everywhere blamed this on the Snake and were angered that someone would do this to one of their own. Kenny to his last days denied any involvement or knowledge of the situation.
Sportswriters Including Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Were Outraged:
ESPN NFL draft guru (he was the NFL draft guru that made it popular to watch the draft before Mel Kiper had thick hair) Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman was especially outraged. He vented his displeasure to anyone that would listen and at that time ESPN was the only voice in Sports. East coast legend Dr. Z held a lot of weight and he was quoted as saying I will never vote for Stabler to get into the Hall of Fame as long as I live. Many writers supported Bod Padecky and Dr. Z, and a deep resentment began. They felt Stabler bullied Padecky. I saw quotes from Dr. Z in the Google archives from an old Sports Illustrated article and he stated that the only player eligible for the Hall of Fame that he ever lobbied against was Ken Stabler.
Here is a recent podcast of Bob’s on local radio. I like his writing but his personality rubbed me the wrong way especially when he started calling the Alabama cops “bubba’s”. (I downloaded it here)
With cocaine involved; The FBI, State of Alabama and the NFL launched what was called “routine” investigations but nothing could be proven. The cocaine was tested; it had been diluted or “cut” a lot and on the streets it was worth $100. Problem was being in possession of any cocaine in Alabama carried a mandatory 2-15 year sentence depending on the circumstance.
On February 13th, the Alabama Attorney General said that Ken’s friend, Randall Watson was seen having a waitress buy a magnetic key holder for him that looked exactly like the one that was found on Padecky. He stated that at the time they could not find Mr. Watson and wanted to talk to him. Eventually Watson was investigated for planting the cocaine but due to a lack of evidence they could not try him for anything.
What is very interesting is that I got the original article from a gulf shores throwback site. At the time, many in the police department including Police Chief Maples said Padecky embellished the story.
The press went crazy. Police Chief Maples said he got calls from all over the country for stories including Penthouse magazine. They started calling the Gulf Shores area the Redneck Riviera. Local reporters laughed because every southern stereotype was being written about by the national media.
The lies told were of legend including how everyone there now hated Ken for what happened which was a literal lie. It got so bad that country music singer Madison “Shine” Powell wrote the song Redneck Riviera.
Stabler Linked to Gamblers, Radicals:
This is as bizarre as the Bob Padecky story and is rarely known or talked about. For about a 4 year period in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the FBI tailed Raiders QB Ken Stabler. Along with the FBI, the NFL and different agencies investigated Ken for his friendship with long time New Jersey gambling figure Nicholas Dudich. Dudich was also an associate of the Simone DeCavalcante organized crime family. The Feds in the past have been relentless in hounding the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Martin Luther King Jr. looking for any type of dirt. They did that to Kenny as well.
Due to the extreme hate from owners and commissioner Pete Rozelle towards Al Davis and the Raiders (The late 70’s was the start of the 10 year lawsuit and war between Davis and the NFL), many wanted to see them go down. Davis had heard that several rival owners had contacted the NFL and the other agencies complaining about Stabler’s association with Dudich.
At first it was denied but in time different Law enforcement agencies including the FBI admitted to putting Stabler under surveillance without a shred of negative evidence against him ever being found. Much to the chagrin of the media and the NFL, after the 4 years, nothing wrong was ever reported on Ken Stabler.
In the NFL constitution it does state players can’t associate with known gamblers or penalties including termination can result. There have been suspensions and threats like in the cases of Paul Hornung, Alex Karras and Joe Namath, so this was a serious issue for the league. Again, Stabler was found to be not guilty to anything but the damage and resentment had been done.
Remember the Ray Rice situation? In true NFL form, when Pete Rozelle was asked about the situation between Stabler and Dudich in 1981, Pete Rozelle said he had never heard of Dudich and that the league was never told about any investigation or problems with the Snake and his possible association with Dudich. Pete seemed to be the only person in the country not knowing about the situation. Even the Raiders said they were giving regular reports to the NFL via executive assistant Al LoCosale. Sadly TMZ and Twitter was not around to help.
When Stabler was traded for Houston quarterback Dan Pastorini, the Oilers ownership didn’t think there was a problem and were very happy to go along with the trade. The FBI in Houston still tailed Stabler without telling the Oilers.
Many writers also bristled at Ken’s association with other people. He was seen having beers with Huey Newton of the radical Black Panther movement and he played pool with Sonny Barger, the founder of the Oakland chapter of the Hell’s Angel’s.
Here’s the Deal; What Really Happened:
I get Ken Stabler. I have friends of all colors, sexual orientations and backgrounds too. Not everyone approves of them. Not all of them have been church folk let’s say. I do know that they are always there for me when I need them. They don’t hurt me and they are loyal to the end so I give them the same love. The only one’s that have ever screwed me over wore nice clothes, drove great cars and were well thought of due to their looks, money or charm.
Ken Stabler was a loyal and good friend. If you were good to him, he was good to you. He was a fun person who wanted to have a good time and didn’t care who you were. He didn’t gamble and he didn’t plant cocaine on Bob Padecky.
I’m not naive. Of course drugs were planted. After listening to people that knew Kenny, I don’t think he was involved at all. Snake was a straight shooter who was definitely not shy to tell you how he felt and this wasn’t his style. I’m sure someone close to Ken without his knowledge planted the cocaine to send a message and to get him off of Stabler’s back. Watson I’m sure was the one that did it.
Will Ken Stabler be Elected Into the Hall of Fame?:
Yes. After years of investigation he was never seen doing anything wrong. Many have had crimes linked to them including Lawrence Taylor and others but it’s all good for the Hall of Fame. Baseball never forgets; football at least moves on, and close minded and biased writers fade away.
Padecky & Stabler Meet Again:
In 2009 here at the Sonoma Raceway, Bob saw Kenny for the last time. In a press conference during race week, he asked a question to Ken on how he was doing and as always, Kenny talked about enjoying his 3 daughters and family and friends. He had adjusted to life and was very happy. Afterwards, the two men met and shook hands and after each did a little small talk, they walked away. As with most men, time and age soften old wounds, mellow out spirits, and pain is better left in the past.
To Bob’s credit, he wrote an article on how he will miss Ken Stabler and that he was the most enjoyable quarterback to watch along with Joe Montana.
I hope that the Hall of Fame Voters will do the right thing and vote Kenny Stabler into the Hall of Fame; something they have failed to do for the last 25 years. His adoring fans in Oakland and Alabama; and especially his family and friends; deserve no less.