Ken Stabler

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Ken Stabler
Ken Stabler 2007 Alabama Broadcasters Convention.jpg
Stabler in 2007
No. 12, 16
Position: Quarterback
Personal information
Born:(1945-12-25)December 25, 1945
Foley, Alabama
Died:July 8, 2015(2015-07-08) (aged 69)
Gulfport, Mississippi
Height:6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Weight:215 lb (98 kg)
Career information
High school: Foley (Foley, Alabama)
College: Alabama
NFL Draft: 1968  / Round: 2 / Pick: 52
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Passing yards:27,938
Passer rating:75.3
Player stats at  ·  PFR

Kenneth Michael Stabler (December 25, 1945 – July 8, 2015), nicknamed "Snake", was an American football quarterback who played in the National Football League (NFL) for 17 seasons, primarily with the Oakland Raiders. He played college football at Alabama and was selected by the Raiders in the second round of the 1968 NFL Draft. During his 10 seasons in Oakland, Stabler received four Pro Bowl selections and was named Most Valuable Player in 1974. Stabler also helped the Raider win their first Super Bowl title in Super Bowl XI. Posthumously, he was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016. [1]


High school career

Stabler became a highly touted football player at Foley High School in Foley, Alabama. He led Foley to a win-loss record of 29–1 over his high school football career—the only loss coming against Vigor High School. He was an all-around athlete in high school, averaging 29 points a game in basketball and excelling enough as a left-handed pitcher in baseball to receive minor-league contract offers from the Houston Astros and New York Yankees. He was an all-American athlete. During his high school career, he earned his nickname "Snake" [2] from his coach following a long, winding touchdown run.

College career

Stabler was recruited by legendary head coach Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Due to NCAA regulations at the time, freshmen were ineligible to play on the varsity in the University Division. Stabler was on the freshman team in 1964, when the Crimson Tide won the National Championship with quarterbacks Joe Namath and Steve Sloan.

As a sophomore in 1965, Stabler was used sparingly as a back-up to Steve Sloan at quarterback, [3] following Namath's departure to the AFL. That year, the Crimson Tide won their second consecutive National Championship, finishing the season with a record of 9–1–1. The team defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl, 39–28.

As a junior in 1966, he took over the starting quarterback position. He led the team to an undefeated, 11–0 season which ended in a 34–7 rout of Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl. Despite the unblemished record, Alabama was snubbed by the polls, finishing third behind Notre Dame and Michigan State, neither of which played in a bowl.

Expectations were high in Stabler's senior season, though those expectations would not be completely fulfilled. The offense often struggled in 1967, and the defense's performance slipped. During the season, Bryant kicked Stabler off the team for cutting class and partying, though he was given a second chance. [4] The Tide finished with an 8–2–1 record, including a loss to rival Tennessee. Though the season was lackluster, Stabler would provide a memorable moment in the Iron Bowl. Trailing 3–0 in a game drenched by rain, Stabler scampered through the mud for a 47-yard, game-winning touchdown which gave the Tide a 7–3 victory over rival Auburn at Legion Field. The play is commonly referred to as the "Run in the Mud" in Alabama football lore. [5]

NCAA collegiate career statistics
Alabama Crimson Tide
1965 3112627.30047.1613285.41
1966 7411495664.995152.6933974.33
1967 1031781,21457.9913117.21111131.05

Professional career

Stabler was selected in the second round of the 1968 NFL/AFL draft by the Oakland Raiders, the reigning AFL champions. He was the fifth quarterback taken, after Greg Landry, Eldridge Dickey, Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban, and Mike Livingston. [6] He was also drafted to play baseball by the New York Yankees in 1966, the New York Mets in 1967, and the Houston Astros in 1968. [7]

Stabler signed a two-year contract with the Raiders in March 1968. [8] In November, the Raiders sent Stabler to Spokane, Washington, to play for the Spokane Shockers of the Continental Football League. [9] [10] [11] He played in two games for the Shockers before being recalled by the Raiders in late November. [12] [13] [14] In July 1969, Stabler left the Raiders. [15] However, in November 1969, Stabler said "I'll be back in pro football come June." [16] [17] In January 1970, it was reported that Stabler and Raiders head coach John Madden agreed that Stabler would return to the Raiders for training camp in July. [18] Stabler made his first regular season appearance as a Raider in 1970. He first attracted attention in the NFL in a 1972 playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. After entering the game in relief of a flu-ridden Daryle Lamonica, he scored the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter on a 30-yard scramble. The Steelers, however, came back to win on a controversial, deflected pass from Terry Bradshaw to Franco Harris, later known in football lore as the Immaculate Reception. [19]

After suffering severe knee injuries, Stabler became less a scrambling quarterback and more a classic, drop-back passer, known for accurate passes and an uncanny ability to lead late, come-from-behind drives. During the peak of his career, he had a receiving corps consisting of sprinter and four-time Pro-Bowler Cliff Branch, Hall of Fame receiver Fred Biletnikoff, and Hall of Fame tight end Dave Casper. The Raiders' philosophy was to pound teams with their running game (aided by multiple-time Pro Bowler Marv Hubbard at fullback, and Clarence Davis at tailback), then stretch them with their long passing game. Although Stabler lacked remarkable arm strength, he was a master of the long pass to Branch, and accurate on intermediate routes to Biletnikoff and Casper. As a starter in Oakland, Stabler was named AFC player of the year in 1974 and 1976, and was the NFL's passing champion in 1976. In January 1977, he guided the Raiders to their first Super Bowl victory, a decisive 32–14 win over the Minnesota Vikings at the Rose Bowl. [20] [21]

In the 1977 AFC playoffs against the Baltimore Colts on Christmas Eve, Stabler completed a legendary fourth quarter pass to Casper to set up a game-tying field goal by Errol Mann. This play, dubbed the "Ghost to the Post," sent the game to double overtime, which the visiting Raiders won 37–31, after Stabler threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Casper. [22] [23] [24] In the second game of 1978 on September 10, the Holy Roller (Immaculate Deception) Game saw Oakland win 21–20 at San Diego after a fourth quarter forward fumble by Stabler was caught and forward-fumbled by two other players to score a touchdown and win the game. [25] [26] [27] This caused the Ken Stabler Rule to be enacted in 1979, permitting only the fumbling player to recover the ball during a fourth down play, or during any down played after the two-minute warning in a half or overtime.

After subpar 1978 and 1979 seasons in which the Raiders failed to make the playoffs and saw the departure of many team leaders from the Super Bowl run: Clarence Davis, Skip Thomas, George Atkinson, Fred Biletnikoff, Willie Brown, and head coach John Madden, Stabler was traded in March 1980 to the Oilers for Dan Pastorini . [28] He left as the Raiders' all-time leader in completions (1,486), passing yards (19,078), and touchdown passes (150). The Oilers saw Stabler as the missing ingredient that could finally get them past the rival Steelers and into the Super Bowl. Houston lacked the exceptional talent on offense that Stabler had thrived with in Oakland, as Earl Campbell and Casper—who was also acquired in a trade from the Raiders—were the few potent weapons they had. Meanwhile, Pastorini lost the starting job in Oakland to Jim Plunkett after an injury, and Plunkett then led the Raiders to a win in Super Bowl XV, which included a playoff win over the Oilers in the wild card game. Houston head coach Bum Phillips was fired shortly after the season, succeeded by defensive coordinator Ed Biles.

Without the popular head coach that rejuvenated an otherwise woeful Houston franchise, Stabler did not report to training camp in 1981 and announced his retirement through his agent on July 23. [29] [30] After five weeks and an injury to projected starter Gifford Nielsen, he returned to the Oilers in late August and signed a two-year contract. [31] [32] He had a mediocre season, as Houston went 7–9 and missed the playoffs.

Released by the Oilers after the season, Stabler re-joined Phillips in New Orleans in late August. [33] (Dave Wilson had suffered a season-ending knee injury on August 12.) [34] In mid-September, the Saints traded longtime starter Archie Manning for offensive tackle Leon Gray. [35] By this time, however, the 37-year-old Stabler was past his prime and the Saints were still a fairly dismal franchise. The first year was interrupted by a two-month players' strike; New Orleans was 4–5 and narrowly missed the expanded playoffs. The 1983 season was his best as a Saint. He started 14 games, and while the team's record in those games was only 7–7, Stabler was the starter for the final game of the season, in New Orleans, against the division rival Los Angeles Rams. Had the Saints won that game, they would have finished 9–7 and reached their first trip to the playoffs. But the Rams pulled out the victory late in the 4th quarter, 26–24. The Saints then acquired New York Jets veteran Richard Todd, who like Stabler played for Bryant at Alabama, before the 1984 season and Stabler retired in the middle of that season, in late October. [36] [37]

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. [38]

In the early part of 1974, Stabler and several NFL stars agreed to join the newly-created World Football League. He signed a contract to play for the Birmingham Americans. "I'm as happy as can be. Getting with a super organization and the financial benefits were key factors, but the biggest thing to me is getting back home. Getting to play before the people in the South is where it's at for me. In two years I'll be in Birmingham if I have to hitchhike," he said. "If I can do for the WFL what Joe Namath did for the AFL, I will feel that I have really accomplished something. I was born in the South and raised in the South and played football in the South. Oakland could have offered me as much money as Birmingham but they couldn't have let me play in the South." The WFL folded midway through the 1975 season, and Stabler remained in the NFL without ever playing in the WFL.

Stabler was named the twenty-seventh greatest quarterback of the post-merger era by Football Nation. [39]

At the 2016 NFL Honors, it was announced that Stabler had been selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he was officially inducted on August 6, 2016.

NFL career statistics

Won the Super Bowl
Led the league
BoldCareer high
NFL career statistics
1970 OAK 303742.8520118.51−4−4.00
1971 OAK 141244850.02681439.24297.32
1972 OAK 141447459.55244382.36274.50
1973 OAK 141116326062.71,997141088.3211014.80
1974 OAK 141317831057.42,469261294.912−2−0.21
1975 OAK 141317129358.42,296162467.36−5−0.80
1976 OAK 121219429166.72,7372717103.47−2−0.31
1977 OAK 131316929457.52,176202075.23−3−1.00
1978 OAK 161623740658.42,944163063.4400.00
1979 OAK 161630449861.13,615262282.216−4−0.30
1980 HOU 161629345764.13,202132868.715−22−1.50
1981 HOU 131216528557.91,988141869.510−3−0.30
1982 NO 8811718961.91,34361071.83−4−1.30
1983 NO 141417631156.61,98891861.49−14−1.60
1984 NO 30337047.13392541.31−1−1.00

After football

Broadcasting career

Following his retirement as a player, Stabler worked as a color commentator, first on CBS NFL telecasts, and then on radio with Eli Gold for Alabama football games. Stabler left before Alabama's 2008 season and was replaced by Phil Savage. [42]

Charitable work

Stabler served as chairman of the XOXO Stabler Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit with a mission "to raise funds, build awareness and hope for a variety of charitable causes." Stabler's celebrity golf tournaments in Point Clear, Alabama have raised nearly $600,000 for charitable partner The Ronald McDonald House of Mobile, which serves families of seriously ill and injured children receiving medical treatment at local hospitals. [43]

In media

Personal life

Stabler was married three times: Isabel Clarke from 1968 to 1973, Debbie Fitzsimmons from 1975 to 1978 and Rose Molly Burch from 1984 to 2009.

Stabler had three daughters, Kendra Stabler Moyes, Alexa Stabler-Adams and Marissa Leigh Stabler. [47] In 2017, Alexa Stabler-Adams was certified by the NFLPA as a sports agent. [48]

Renowned for being cool and cerebral on the field, Stabler was equally legendary for his off-field exploits;[ citation needed ] he wrote in his 1986 autobiography Snake, "The monotony of [training] camp was so oppressive that without the diversions of whiskey and women, those of us who were wired for activity and no more than six hours sleep a night might have gone berserk". [49] Stabler told stories of drunk Raiders teammates pointing guns at him, and bailing out a teammate from jail who was wearing nothing but blue cowboy boots and his Super Bowl ring. "We were the only pro team who traveled with its own bail bondsman", he said. [50]


Stabler died of colon cancer on July 8, 2015, at the age of 69. He had been diagnosed with the disease in February 2015. After some initial confusion when The Tuscaloosa News leaked a draft obituary for Stabler before word of his death could be confirmed, his family confirmed his death in a statement issued on July 9. [51] [52]

In February 2016, The New York Times reported that researchers at Boston University discovered high Stage 3 chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in Stabler's brain after his death. [53] He was buried at Pine Rest Cemetery in Foley, Alabama.

See also

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Further reading