NFL Wire News

Stabler succumbs after lifetime of third and longs


The Sports Xchange

A few weeks ago, Ken Stabler mentioned almost casually that he had cancer, then quickly and confidently added “it’s under control, no big deal.”

The Snake, as he has been known since his days at the University of Alabama, was talking to Tom LaMarre, a veteran NFL reporter and now golf writer for The Sports Xchange. They were working on a book titled “A Lifetime of Third and Longs.”

The book was to tell how Stabler beat so many third and longs on the field, but not off the field.

“We’re going to get this book done; I can beat this,” Stabler told LaMarre.

But the left-handed magician who managed so many memorable wins as quarterback for the Oakland Raiders did not beat cancer.

Stabler, who turned 69 last Dec. 25, quietly succumbed to Stage 4 colon cancer Wednesday evening surrounded by his family as he listened to his favorite music, including Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Stabler, born in Foley, Ala., achieved legendary status in a state that thrives on football but doesn’t have an NFL team. He was a star for Alabama and went on to greatness with the Raiders, guiding them to their first Super Bowl championship in the 1976 season.

Stabler became both famous and infamous for his raucous style in the game of football and in life. He admitted there were times he was still hung over at game time and that he relied more on basic instinct than intricate game plans.

Off the field, his life included too many wives, bankruptcies and DUIs.

Still, Stabler was one of the brightest stars in what is called “The Golden Era” of the NFL. He jousted and beat the best, including Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who insists that Stabler should be with him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“Ken Stabler was better than me,” Bradshaw told The Sports Xchange a few years ago when the former Steeler campaigned to get the former Raider into the Hall of Fame.

“I say that because I’m pretty secure with my own limitations and I know who I was,” Bradshaw continued. “But it was Snake Stabler who was the best quarterback in the ’70s, not me.

“He didn’t have a big cannon for an arm. He didn’t have the running game that we had at Pittsburgh. But when he had the ball in his hand, he was somebody you feared because you knew he would find a way to beat you.

“There were only two quarterbacks I feared when I played, The Snake and Roger Staubach. Snake was a cool customer. He had ice-water in his veins. He was the best two-minute quarterback I ever saw. Better than guys today. Today it is a science. To Snake, it was a sixth sense.

“In many regards, I think he was very similar to Joe Montana without the benefit of a system that made it easier on you with all those dinks and dunks.”

Stabler was involved in four of the most famous games/plays in NFL history:

–In the 1972 playoffs, he ran 30 yards for a go-ahead touchdown with 1:13 left. However, that great play is almost a trivia question because it was then upstaged by Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception.

–In the 1974 playoffs, Stabler threw the “Sea of Hands” touchdown pass to Clarence Davis to dethrone the two-time Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins.

–In the 1977 playoffs, Stabler threw the “Ghost to the Post” pass to Dave Casper, setting up a game-tying field goal, then threw a touchdown pass to Casper in the second overtime to beat the Baltimore Colts 37-31.

–In 1978, Stabler started the famous “Holy Roller” play with an intentional fumble that Casper recovered for a touchdown to beat the San Diego Chargers 21-10 with no time left.

Those are examples of how Stabler was dynamic and dramatic on the field in a way that was difficult to capture with mere statistics, some of which seem to work against him as they were unfairly viewed in comparison with the mind-numbing numbers manufactured in an NFL that is retrofitted with rules to bloat passing stats.

His remarkable career needs to be viewed with historic perspective.

Stabler threw 194 touchdown passes and 222 interceptions in his career, but Y.A Tittle, Norm van Brocklin, Bob Waterfield, Sammy Baugh, Joe Namath, George Blanda, Bobby Layne, Ace Parker and Dutch Clark — all in the Hall of Fame — also had more interceptions than touchdown passes.

Bradshaw had 212 touchdown passes and 210 interceptions.

“We played a different game back then,” Bradshaw said. “Snake’s stats were better than Joe Namath, who also threw more than his share of interceptions. But he’s in the Hall of Fame.”

The only stat that Stabler cared about was wins.

Once, after Stabler threw seven interceptions in a game against the Denver Broncos, he said, “Had the game gone on any longer, I might have thrown 10, because that was the only chance we had to get back into the game and maybe win it.”

Stabler passed for 27,938 yards in his career, more than Bob Griese, Namath, Staubach, Blanda, Bart Starr, Parker, Van Brocklin, Layne, Otto Graham, Sid Luckman, Waterfield and Baugh — all in the Hall of Fame.

Stabler’s career touchdown passes were more than Griese, Namath, Staubach, Starr, Parker, Van Brocklin, Graham, Luckman, Waterfield, Clark and Baugh.

Here is a snapshot of Stabler’s NFL career:


–Played with Oakland Raiders, Houston Oilers, New Orleans Saints

–With the Raiders (1970-79):

1970s All-Decade team (by Hall of Fame selectors)

NFL Most Valuable Player 1974, 1976

AFC Most Valuable Player 1974, 1976

NFL Offensive MVP 1974, 1976

First team All-Pro 1974, 1976

First team All-AFC 1973

Pro Bowl 1973-74-76

Passing: 2,481 attempts, 1,486 completions, 19,078 yards, 150 touchdowns, 143 interceptions, 80.2 rating

Holds Raiders career records for completions, attempts, passing yards, touchdowns

Set then-Raiders record of 143 passes without an interception.

In a 1973 game against Baltimore, he completed 23-of-27 passes for a then-NFL record 86.2 percent, including 14 straight completions

Rushing: 80 carries, 137 yards, four touchdowns

Record as a starter (1973-79): 74-25 regular season; 7-4 in postseason (.736 overall)

Led the Raiders to four division titles, five AFC Championship Games, the 1976 Super Bowl victory

–With Houston Oilers (1980-81): Passing: 293-of-457, 5,190 yards, 27 touchdowns, 46 interceptions

Team record: 18-14

Led the Oilers into the playoffs in 1980

–With New Orleans (1982-1984): Passing: 320-of-560, 3,670 yards, 17 touchdowns, 33 interceptions

Led Saints to the first .500 record in franchise history in 1983

Team record: 19-22 (easily the best three-year mark in franchise history to that point)

–Career statistics: 3,793 passes, 2,270 completions (59.8 percent) for 27,938 yards, 194 touchdowns, 222 interceptions

–Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and, is in his sixth decade covering football, including the Oakland Raiders, whom he also represents with some frustration the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.

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