Ken Stabler

Kenneth Michael Stabler (December 25, 1945 – July 8, 2015), nicknamed "Snake", was an American football quarterback in the National Football League (NFL) for the Oakland Raiders (1970–1979), Houston Oilers (1980–1981) and New Orleans Saints (1982–1984). He played college football for the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Stabler quarterbacked the Raiders to victory in Super Bowl XI, was the 1974 NFL Most Valuable Player and was selected as a quarterback for the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team. Stabler was posthumously elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.[1]

Ken Stabler
Stabler in 2007
No. 12, 16
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)
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
Player stats at PFR

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 Alabama. 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, the Tide 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.

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 also drafted to play baseball by the New York Yankees in 1966, the New York Mets in 1967 and the Houston Astros in 1968.[5] He signed a two-year contract with the Raiders in March 1968.[6] In November 1968, the Raiders sent Stabler to Spokane, Washington to play for the Spokane Shockers of the Continental Football League.[7] He played in two games for the Shockers before being recalled by the Raiders in late November.[8][9][10] In July 1969, Stabler left the Raiders.[11] However, in November 1969, Stabler said "I'll be back in pro football come June".[12] 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.[13] 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.

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 4-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 32–14 win over the Minnesota Vikings. In the 1977 AFC playoffs against the Baltimore Colts, Stabler completed a legendary 4th 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, during which the Raiders won 37–31 after Stabler threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Casper. 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 4th quarter forward fumble by Stabler was caught and forward-fumbled by two other players to score a touchdown and win the game, causing the Ken Stabler Rule to be enacted, 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 to the Oilers for Dan Pastorini prior to the 1980 season, after a lengthy contract holdout. Stabler left the Raiders as their all-time leader in completions (1,486), passing yards (19,078), and touchdown passes (150). The Oilers, in turn, saw Stabler as the missing ingredient that could finally get them past the rival Steelers and into the Super Bowl. However 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 over Stabler and the Oilers in the playoffs. Oilers head coach Bum Phillips was fired shortly after the season.

Without the popular head coach that rejuvenated an otherwise woeful Houston franchise, Stabler had a mediocre season in 1981 but re-joined Bum Phillips when the New Orleans Saints traded longtime starter Archie Manning to Houston for Stabler and offensive tackle Leon Gray. By this time, however, the 37-year-old Stabler was past his prime and the Saints were still a fairly dismal franchise. The 1983 season was Stabler's 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.

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.[14]

In the early part of 1974, Stabler and several NFL stars agreed to join the newly created World Football League. Stabler 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 would end up folding midway through the 1975 season, and Stabler remained in the NFL without ever playing in the WFL.

For his successes in the NFL, Stabler was named the twenty-seventh greatest quarterback of the post-merger era by Football Nation.[15]

At the 2016 NFL Honors it was announced that Stabler would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Stabler was officially inducted into the Hall of Fame on August 6, 2016.

Career statistics

NCAA collegiate career statistics
Alabama Crimson Tide
Season Passing Rushing
CompAttYardsPct.TDIntQB ratingAttYardsAvgTD
1965 3112627.30047.1613285.41
1966 7411495664.995152.6933974.33
1967 1031781,21457.9913117.21111131.05
Career 1803032,19659.41818128.02658383.29
NFL career statistics
Year Team Games Passing Rushing
1970OAK 303742.8520118.51-4-4.00
1971OAK 141244850.02681439.24297.32
1972OAK 141447459.55244382.36274.50
1973OAK 141116326062.71,997141082.3211014.80
1974OAK 141317831057.42,469261288.312-2-0.21
1975OAK 141317129358.42,296162467.36-5-0.80
1976OAK 121219429166.72,7372717103.47-2-0.31
1977OAK 131316929457.52,176202075.23-3-1.00
1978OAK 161623740658.42,944163063.4400.00
1979OAK 161630449861.13,615262282.216-4-0.30
1980HOU 161629345764.13,202132868.715-22-1.50
1981HOU 131216528557.91,988141869.510-3-0.30
1982NO 8811718961.91,34361071.83-4-1.30
1983NO 141417631156.61,98891861.49-14-1.60
1984NO 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.[16]

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.[17]

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.[21] In 2017, Alexa Stabler-Adams was certified by the NFLPA as a sports agent. [22]

Renowned for being cool and cerebral on the field, Stabler was equally legendary for his off-field exploits; 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".[23] 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.[24]


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.[25][26]

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.[27] He was buried at Pine Rest Cemetery in Foley, Alabama.

See also


  1. Hoffman, Benjamin (February 6, 2016). "After Revelation He Had C.T.E., Ken Stabler Is a Poignant Hall of Fame Addition" via
  2. "Ken Stabler". Oakland Raiders. Archived from the original on July 18, 2011. Retrieved September 3, 2008.
  3. "University of Alabama official team statistics, 1965" (PDF). Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  4. "Bear Bryant 'simply the best there ever was'". ESPN. Retrieved September 3, 2008.
  5. "Ken Stabler". Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
  6. "Ken Stabler Signs Raider Contract". The Pensacola News. Associated Press. March 21, 1968. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
  7. "Stabler Joins Spokane Club". Idaho State Journal. Associated Press. November 10, 1968. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
  8. "Spokane Shockers (1969)". Archived from the original on December 4, 2017. Retrieved December 4, 2017.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  9. Tinley, Scott (October 13, 2010). "The legend of Kenny Stabler". Retrieved December 4, 2017.
  10. Hayes, Ed (November 30, 1968). "It's Buddy-Buddy In T-Bowl Title Tilt at 8". Orlando Evening Star. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
  11. "Stabler Quits Because of Attitude". The Anniston Star. Associated Press. July 30, 1969. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
  12. Smith, George (November 19, 1969). "Remember Snake? He's On His Way Back". The Anniston Star. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
  13. "Stabler Plans Grid Return". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Associated Press. January 17, 1970. p. 22. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
  14. "Pats put away Chargers for fourth Super Bowl berth in seven years". ESPN. January 20, 2008. Retrieved September 2, 2008.
  15. "Top 100 Modern Quarterbacks 40–21". Football Nation. July 26, 2012. Archived from the original on October 30, 2012. Retrieved October 13, 2012.
  16. Williamson, Bill (July 11, 2008). "Ex-Raiders star Stabler leaves radio gig". ESPN. Archived from the original on October 9, 2008. Retrieved September 3, 2008.
  17. Inabinett, Mark (March 4, 2013). "Ken Stabler 'just trying to pay the rent' with golf tournament". Retrieved March 31, 2013.
  18. "Lung Brush". Retrieved September 3, 2008.
  19. "LegendsL Jake 'The Snake' Roberts!". Pro Wrestling Daily. March 10, 2008. Archived from the original on June 8, 2008. Retrieved September 3, 2008.
  20. "NFL Street Legend: Kenny Stabler". IGN Sports. November 18, 2003. Retrieved July 14, 2012.
  21. Dickey, Glenn (June 5, 2005). "Catching up with Kenny Stabler: Avoiding Snake eyes". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved September 3, 2008.
  22. Alexa's NFLPA Agency certification
  23. Stabler, Ken (September 1986). Snake. Doubleday. p. 2. ISBN 0385234503.
  24. St. John, Warren (2004). "Chapter Eight: Fighting Gators, Crash Landings, and Fireman Mike". Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Journey Into the Heart of Fan Mania. Crown Publishers. p. 137. ISBN 1-4000-8297-8.
  25. "UPDATE: Oakland Raiders QB Ken Stabler, 69, Dies From Stage 4 Colon Cancer".
  26. Sinclair Broadcast Group. "CONFIRMED: Kenny Stabler Passes Away". WPMI. Archived from the original on July 10, 2015.
  27. "Ken Stabler, a Magnetic N.F.L. Star, Was Sapped of Spirit by C.T.E." The New York Times.

Further reading

  • Stabler, Ken; Berry Stainback (1986). Snake: The Candid Autobiography of Football's Most Outrageous Renegade. Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-23450-3.
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