by Ryan Meehan
On Thursday we were informed of the very sad news that former Oakland Raiders and Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Kenny Stabler passed away at the age of sixty-nine from complications resulting from colon cancer. Stabler was unstoppable his junior year of college, leading the Tide to an undefeated record of 11-0 after crushing Nebraska in the 1967 Sugar Bowl.
As a football fan who is only thirty-five years of age, I have to say that I never got the chance to watch a live game that Kenny played in. But as someone who prides themselves on the history of the Super Bowl era of the NFL, I’m well aware of the legend of Ken Stabler. He led the Raiders to their first world championship in Super Bowl XI, and he was known for his incredibly calm and cool persona and reckless partying. In short, he was old school.
It was not unusual for Kenny to stumble into the huddle with the stench of vodka on his breath from the previous night. But when he stepped to the line of scrimmage, all of the flaws in his one-in-a-million personality seemed to evaporate as he executed the task at hand and led the Raider nation through any defense that was thrown his way. He’s the perfect example of why statistics don’t always mean everything, and although he has not been elected to the Hall of Fame yet I believe that moment may come here soon as it will be a posthumous induction which is usually considered to be a classy move for the National Football League. Whether it is deserved or not will be a topic that I’m sure will be debated constantly over the next week, so I’m going to leave that discussion for sports talk radio.
Death is inevitable for all of us, and because of that fact we can only hope that when it is our time to go it comes at a time that is right for us to depart this planet. I think that Kenny leaving us in early July was about as fitting of a time as possible for him to go, as we’re all desperately waiting for professional football to come back into an otherwise dry and sad sports landscape. So as much as it sucks that he’s no longer with us, believe it or not this is a best-case scenario overall.
However, there was one portion of this story that did bother me a little bit. John Madden released a statement in which he said…
“I’ve often said, If I had one drive to win a game to this day, and I had a quarterback to pick, I would pick Kenny.”
As heartfelt of a quote as that was for the man who hoisted the Lombardi trophy with the recently deceased, I believe that Madden’s choice of words was poor and this sentence did a bit of a disservice to Stabler’s legacy. I’ve heard John say that same thing week after week as a color commentator about guys like Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady, so the fact that he wasn’t able to come up with a more unique description of what made Stabler so much different than any other quarterback in NFL history is a little bit troubling to me. Perhaps given Madden’s history of bumbling it shouldn’t be worth mentioning, but I feel it bears noting and I guarantee you you’ll only read that take on this website.
But that’s neither here nor there. It wasn’t Madden’s life, it was Snake’s. It was that ever-present vulnerability which all of us can remember having between the ages of 17 and 23 that made him so likable. More importantly, it takes us back to a time before Twitter when athletes were human, and still had a connection with the fans that I feel is slowly disappearing with every passing day.
Ken Stabler lived to be 69 years old. If you were to have told him in his early twenties that he’d make it to live a day over fifty, he probably would have bought you a shot of whiskey and told you to shut the hell up. Although none of us will ever be able to know for sure, I’m sure he loved every single minute of it. In a way, that’s kind of what it’s all about. As the great Francis Alfred Sinatra famously said…
“You only live once, but if you’ve lived like me, once is enough…”
Fuckin’ A, Frank, and Rest in Peace Kenny.
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Kenny Stabler was the reason I became a Raider fan. I remember watching a game, Raiders won and the first thing Kenny did was walk over and shake the opponents hand; I was so impressed with that I became a raider fan at that moment and this was in 1974. Back when Kenny played I remember always sitting on the edge of my seat,The Raiders were behind, but some how Kenny managed to win the game. I loved how the ball always seemed to go around players and find the player Kenny wanted. I agree you think Raiders, us older fans think Kenny Stabler. I see a snake I think Kenny Stabler. I had the phone number to his bar…Lefty in Golf Shore Alabama, always dreamed of meeting him. My heart is heavy and I am sad with his passing……but I am truly happy I was able to watch him play once in Oakland against the Minnesota Vikings.
As a die hard Raider fan thanks for writing a great article on a great man.