Monday, June 5, 2017

32 Greats in 32 Days: Ken "The Snake" Stabler

Super Bowl champion (XI)

NFL Most Valuable Player (1974)

4× Pro Bowl (1973, 1974, 1976, 1977)

2× First-Team All-Pro (1974, 1976)

NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1974)

2× NFL passing touchdowns leader (1974, 1976)

NFL 1970s All-Decade Team

TD–INT: 194–222

Passing yards: 27,938

Passer Rating: 75.3

Hall Of Fame Class: 2016

The scorching Alabama sun shone down on the yellow green field, marked by white lines and numbers. It was soon eclipsed by a small , black, egg shaped object. A ball. A football. The ball paused in the thick, musty air for just a second, before arcing back down into the arms of a lanky, long-haired football player, the number 12 stretched across his front. The returner took off, his long gangly legs making him almost glide past the return team trying to stop him. Number 12 made a quick turn to one end of the field before again cutting back along the length of the field once again to evade tacklers. Defenders fell around him, just short of stopping number 12 from scoring off of the punt. Foley High School Football coach Denzil Hollis stood on the sideline, a grin flashing across his expression, as he exclaimed. "Damn, that boy runs like a snake." That day in Foley, Alabama, the legend of Ken "The Snake" Stabler was born.

Ken Stabler was a tremendous athlete at Foley High School, excelling in both football(29-1 record as a starter, and state QB records that still stand.) and baseball. In fact, he was so good as a left handed pitcher, that he received minor-league contract offers from the Houston Astros and New York Yankees. Stabler was eager to sign with the Astros, before his father, Leroy "Slim" Stabler talked him out of it, and persuaded Snake to go to college and continue his football career. Leroy Stabler was ultimately afraid that the promise of a six-figure salary would change his son, and knew that a free education was a tremendous blessing, a blessing that the automobile mechanic never had. Snake was swayed, and set his sights on Auburn University, a school that had shown mutual interest in the accurate passer. Stabler was enticed by the offense Auburn ran, where the QB was heavily involved in the running game. However, legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant soon visited the Stabler house fiercely pursuing Ken Stabler. The Alabama legend's charisma and demeanor proved to be enticing and inspiring to a young Stabler, and he committed right there and then to the Crimson Tide.

While in college, Stabler sat his first two years behind a little known QB named Joe Namath. He took on the starting role as a Junior and led the team to a great season, and an eventual national championship in an undefeated season in 1966. He was a winner, a gamer, that would try anythig to win a game. The iconic "Run In The Mud" orchestrated by Stabler exemplified his college career; he was going to win by any means.

Snake's career certainly had a rocky start. A knee injury caused Stabler to fall to the second round in the 1968 draft, where he was selected by the Oakland Raiders. Still rehabbing the knee injury and struggling to learn the new Raiders system, Snake was relegated to the Continental Football League, a sort of developmental league, where he played for the Spokane Shockers before finally being moved up to the NFL in 1970. Still, Stabler was on the bench, acting only as a placeholder and backup to Daryle Lamonica. Stabler got his first action in 1972, in a playoff game with the Steelers that will go down in infamy. Daryle Lamonica battled the flu, and ultimately had to be pulled out of the game, placing Snake straight into the action against a fierce Steeler' s defense. Stabler played exceptional, making all the throws and scoring a go-ahead touchdown late in the 4th quarter. The Steelers however, came back to finish the Raiders off, sprung by a controversial (and rather bullshit) call that is known as the Immaculate Reception.

From that point on, Stabler unseated the veteran Lamonica, and ushered in the era of the Snake. He was accurate, slippery in the pocket, and was dangerous with his running ability. Snake was a man ahead of his time, combining short accurate passes, a quick release, and his elusiveness and running ability. His creaky, often injured knees did little to hamper him, as he just barely escaped that sack, or just barely slipped it past a coverage. He was the master of the comeback, leading his Raiders to victory from behind a multitude of times. Snake quarterbacked Oakland to five straight conference championship games, twice leading the NFL in touchdown passes and completion percentage. The slippery gunslinger threw just as many, if not more interceptions than touchdowns, but carried a steely resolve and that "do or die" playstyle that he possessed ever since his days in Foley, Alabama. Dave Casper, a tight end that played with Stabler, told Paul Zimmerman, a former Sports Illustrated writer, “I don’t think (Stabler) ever cared about losing. Winning is fine. Losing? So what? He’d rather win the gamble and force a pass in there. He’d rather do it the hard way.” In 1977, with the help of a legendary receiving corp of Cliff Branch, Fred Biletnikoff, Dave Casper, Stabler led the Raiders to their first Super Bowl win over the Minnesota Vikings.

In many regards, Snake was the perfect quarterback for the rough-and-tumble "misfits" of the 1970s Raiders. Stabler wasn't your usual goody-two-shoes QB. He loved a good time, especially the kind that came in a bottle, and bragged about reading the playbook under the light of the jukebox at a bar. His infamous quote "You don't have to do the conventional things the night before. It doesn't matter as long as you did it the next day." The stories of late nights in bars of Tuscaloosa, parties at Playboy mansion, how Snake hung the panties of the women he slept with the night before in his locker, and the hungover playcaller reeking of booze all characterized a renegade that played into the image and allure of the feared Raiders. The shit-eating grin , the long, unkempt hair poking out from behind his helmet, and the grizzly, unkempt beard exemplified the Raiders to the tee. But the image of a bad-boy overshadowed the kind of person Snake really was. While at Alabama, the sports team was de-segregated, prompting 6 black players to join the team. Andrew Pernell, a wide receiver from Bessemer, was one of them. In a 2013 profile on, he described being welcomed, but held aloof, by the team. The ice broke, he said, following a small gesture Stabler made. “One day Stabler just walked right up to me before he had said a word to anybody else and said, ‘How ‘bout it, Pernelli?’ That always meant a lot to me. He was a guy the others looked to as a leader and I think he made them feel like it was O.K. to talk to us and treat us like regular members of the team." Stabler loved his fans and was always happy to give back whether it was an autograph, or through a charity. Times weren't always peachy for Snake though. He was divorced 3 times in his time as a Raider, and his father and mother both died well before they had a chance to see him play in the NFL. The public's perception of Snake also wasn't always bright, as investigations of hit-and-runs and DUIs tainted his public image. The Snake was exciting and polarizing, both between the white lines and outside of them.

Snake threw for over 19,000 yards and 150 touchdowns as a Raider, but he wasn't universally loved by the everybody in the Raiders management. Al Davis was a fan of rocket arms and vertical passing attacks, a style that the Raiders shifted away from because of the rather lacking arm strength of Stabler. Snake dinked and dunked, rather than tossing bombs that So Davis wanted to see. After two sub-par seasons in 1978 in which Snake turned the ball over a total of 66 times and struggled with more knee injuries, he was traded to the Oilers. While in Houston he struggled to find the same success he had in Oakland with a poor offensive line and a lack of talent at the skill positions. The Oilers with the help of Snake ultimately made the playoffs, but were defeated by the Jim Plunkett led Raiders. He then joined the New Orleans Saints, where it was evident he was passed his prime. Flashes of the Snake that people remembered did shine through however. In 1983, with a struggling and abysmal Saints team, Snake pulled off two come from behind wins leading the Saints to a 7-7 season. Stabler was the fastest to win 100 games as a starting quarterback, having done so in 150 games, which bettered Johnny Unitas' previous mark of 153 games. Since then, only Terry Bradshaw in 147 games, Joe Montana in 139 games and Tom Brady in 131 games have reached 100 wins more quickly. Snake called it quits in 1985, and walked away from the game with only 1 losing season while he was the starter.

Snake's life after football was a quiet, yet somber one. In the waning years of Al Davis, Snake and him made up. In 2009, Stabler, attended a Raiders game versus the New York Jets, and exchanged brief pleasantries with Davis. On the plane ride back to home to Alabama, Stabler decided he wanted to meet with his former boss. The following summer, in Oakland for a celebrity golf tournament, Stabler arranged a meeting. An initial chill between the old owner and quarterback eventually warmed when the conversation turned to those 1970s teams. At one point, Davis motioned at Stabler’s Super Bowl ring, looked at Bush and said, “He should have more of those. “You’re probably right, coach,” Stabler said. “I should have stayed.” Davis died a year later, but the peace had been made, and Stabler and his family attended his funeral. Life became harder for Stabler. Snake showed signs of CTE, and struggled with the symptoms. In 2014 he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Snake battled cancer like he took on any other challenge in his life, with a cool, calm, yet fiery attitude. Snake bought a speed bag and gloves, and did what any fighter would do when his back is against the wall. Swing. "I'm going to give it hell." He told his daughters, and he did, undergoing chemotherapy and continuing to work out. The fight lasted until July 8, 2015, when Stabler died at a hospital in Gulfport, surrounded by his family, listening to "Sweet Home Alabama" . He was laid to rest in his hometown, and was post-humously inducted into the Hall Of Fame last year.

Ken Stabler's life and career was like a snake. Full of twists and turns, curves and bends. He lived life on the edge, but tried his best to be the best person he could be. Snake exemplified the Raiders, and what it meant to be one, and became an iconic figure in NFL history. His presence in plays like "The Ghost To The Post" , "The Holy Roller" , "Sea Of Hands" , and "The Immaculate Deception" cemented The Snake in NFL lore.

I had a very hard time figuring out which player I should do for this post, as the Raiders history is filed with legendary players, but I felt like Ken Stabler was the perfect pick. He will always hold a special place in my heart as he was one of my Grandpa's favorite players if the 1970's "misfit" teams that loved. My grandpa passed away earlier this year, and I've been reflecting on the stories of the 1970's Raiders that he would tell me, the stories of these "larger-than-life" characters that were seen as renegades and feared by the NFL, living by their mottos "Commitment To Excellence" and "Just Win, Baby...". Ken Stabler was a renegade that lived life his way, but underneath was a person that anybody could look up to. Like my Grandpa, Snake represented the old Raider, and that's why I decided to tell his story. Maybe up there somewhere in a place unbeknownst to us, Snake is still with that shit-eating-grin enjoying a cold one with my Viejo.

Submitted June 05, 2017 at 08:50AM by El_Macho_Nacho
via reddit

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