Remembering The Snake

by Brandon Rose

Yesterday the NFL fraternity lost one of their greats with the death of Kenny "The Snake" Stabler.
He was 69 years old. Although that is young by today's standards, he lived a full life.

My earliest memories of Kenny are when he was one of "Bear's Boys" posting a college record of 28-3-2 and winning a National Championship all at the University of Alabama. He was a 2nd Round draft pick by the Oakland Raiders. He needed some seasoning. So he played his way onto the Raiders roster via the Continental Football League with the Spokane Shockers.

Once he made the Raiders for good in 1970 he spent three seasons playing behind a legend in his own rite, Daryle "The Mad Bomber" Lamonica. He finally got his chance playing in the second half of a 1972 playoff game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. He gave the Raiders the lead late on a 30 yard touchdown run only to lose on a play for the ages, "The Immaculate Reception."

In 1973 he became the Raiders starting QB and never looked back. For the next seven seasons he gave the Raiders a chance to win every Sunday. The Snake was the guy who could stay out all night and get the job done on Sunday. Boy did he get the job done on Sunday. His Raiders ran off a gaudy 68-25-1 record when he started. They won Super Bowl XI stomping all over the Fran Tarkenton led Vikings 32-14. Although winning the Super Bowl is the ultimate win, The Snake, had three other iconic wins during his career that almost over shadow that Super Bowl XI win. In 1974 he was the reason the Dolphins didn't go to a fourth straight Super Bowl when he completed the now famous "Sea Of Hands" game winning touchdown pass to Clarence Davis in the 1974 AFC Divisional playoff game. Incredibly the heavily favored Raiders were upset the next week by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1974 AFC Championship Game. In 1977 his great "Ghost To The Post " throw to TE Dave "The Ghost" Casper in a wild overtime AFC playoff game was the difference maker versus the Colts and QB Bert Jones and was one of the Raiders all-time wins. And finally, in 1978 the "Holy Roller" game defeating the San Diego Chargers. It was his "fumble" while being sacked on the final play of the game and the Raiders subsequent "fumbles" [over and over] forward downfield with the ball eventually being recovered in the end zone by TE Dave Casper that led to an NFL rule change.

In 1980 he was dealt to the Houston Oilers. Along with head coach Bum Phillips they energized the struggling franchise. His arrival had the city of Houston in a football frenzy. I was lucky enough to be in Houston for The Snake's Oilers debut. A toy snake was the hottest ticket in town and not just for the kids. A cement company painted their trucks Oilers blue with Love Ya Blue and The Snake written on them in big lettering. The energy in Houston was immeasurable. As fate would have it, the Oilers best season was 1980 [11-5] with both men on board only to have it end when the Raiders and QB Jim Plunkett demolished them in the playoffs. Funny thing about that, Plunkett wasn't the QB the Raiders traded The Snake for. That was former Oilers QB Dan Pastorini who lost his job earlier in the season to Plunkett. The Oilers fired Bum Phillips shortly after the 1980 playoff loss. Without the popular head coach and a lack of overall talent 1981 was a disaster and ended up being Kenny's last season in Houston. In 1982 he was reunited with head coach Bum Phillips in New Orleans. Playing mostly on guts and savvy the Saints came within eye lash of making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in their three seasons together. The Snake called it a career after the 1984 season.

In retirement Kenny worked as a color analyst for CBS on NFL games. His country charm, stories about his football experiences and knowledge of the game made him sometimes more interesting than the game being played. After leaving CBS he did Alabama Crimson Tide games on radio until he was dismissed shortly before the 2008 season. His three DUI arrests and on-air sobriety issues led to his leaving the Alabama radio broadcasts.

Why he isn't in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame is one of pro football's great mysteries. He was better than or at least as good as almost all of the QB's from his era that are in the Hall. He was voted on to the NFL 1970's All-Decade Team. Without Stabler, the Raider mystique of Davis and Madden, and "the Commitment to Excellence" motto, would be significantly diminished. Let's hope The Snake's career is not diminished any longer. A player and personality for his time, he is deserving of a spot among the legends of the game. Late is better than not at all.

In the end, when God put Kenneth Michael Stabler in our world on Christmas Day 1945 he threw away the mold. There will only be one like him. He is one of those athletes that when you hear his name a smile comes to your face. God rest his soul and keep his memory alive.