Thursday, July 9, 2015

Raider Great Kenny "The Snake" Stabler - RIP

Word is getting out that Oakland Raider great quarterback, Kenny Stabler passed away earlier today.  Stabler, known as "the Snake", was a left handed thrower who played for the Raiders from 1970 through 1979.  He earned his nickname "the Snake" from his high school coach following a long, winding touchdown run.

One of my earliest football memories was Stabler coming in to the December 1972 American Football Conference (AFC) playoff game against the Steelers in relief of Raiders starting quarterback Darryl Lamonica.  The Raiders were trailing the Steelers 6 - 0.  With 1:17 left in the game, Stabler scrambled out of the pocket and broke free into the Steelers' secondary and scored a touchdown on a 30 yard run that gave the Raiders a 7 - 6 lead.  However, the game will always be remembered for the Steelers next drive that ended the game.  I still remember sitting in disbelief as with 22 seconds left in the game, Steeler quarter Terry Bradshaw connected with running back Franco Harris on a fourth down 60-yard completion, as the Steelers won the game 13 - 7 on a play that will always be remembered as the "Immaculate Reception".   The win was the first playoff victory in the Steelers four decade history. 
This was the beginning of a fierce rivalry between the Steelers and Raiders. In the 1970s, the Steelers and Raiders were the among the best teams in the AFC and the National Football League (NFL). The Raiders regularly met the Steelers in the playoffs, and the winner of these games went on to win the Super Bowl in 3 straight years, from 1975–77.  Stabler was the Raiders quarterback of teams that played in five consecutive AFC Championship games, between the 1973-74 and the 1977-78 seasons.
Topps 1973 Ken Stabler Card #487
At the time, I was a Raider fan and I remember many great plays made by Stabler. 
During a playoff game in December 1974, with 24 seconds left in the game, Stabler found running back Clarence Davis with the game-winning touchdown pass among "the sea of hands" of three Dolphins defenders as the Raiders won the game 28 - 26. The loss eliminated Miami from the playoffs after they had made it to the Super Bowl in each of the last 3 seasons.
There was the "Ghost to the Post" when Stabler connected on the over the shoulder catch to tight end Dave Casper that lead to a game tying field goal, in the December 1997 AFC playoff game against the Colts.  The Raiders ended up winning the game 37 - 31 in the second overtime, when Stabler connected with Casper on a ten yard touchdown pass.
I also remember  the September 10, 1978 game where the Raiders trailed the Chargers as the game was ending.  "The Holy Roller" (also known as "the Immaculate Deception" by San Diego Chargers fans) is the nickname given to a controversial game-winning play by the Raiders.  It was officially ruled as a forward fumble that was recovered by Casper in the end zone for a touchdown, ultimately giving Oakland the 21–20 win.  There were differing interpretations of how this play should have been ruled, and it has remained a controversial play. The NFL amended its rules after the 1978 season in order to prevent a recurrence of a forward fumble play.

Stabler was the quarterback of great Raider teams, including the 1977 Super Bowl Champions when he guided the Raiders to their first Super Bowl victory, a 32-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings.  His Raider teammates included Hall of Famers, Jim Otto, Gene Upshaw, Art Shell, Fred Bilenikioff, George Blanda,  Dave Casper, Bob Brown, Ted Hendricks, and Ray Guy.  Also his coach John Madden is in the Hall of Fame as is their team owner and general manager, Al Davis.  He was named as a second team quarterback on the NFLs All Decade team of the 1970s.  It is a shame that Stabler never made it to the Hall of Fame although he was a integral part of the great Raider teams of the 70s.  
He finished his career playing two seasons with the Oilers and two seasons and a part of a third season with the Saints.  While playing for the Saints in the strike interrupted season of 1982, he lead them to an upset victory over the defending Super Bowl Champion, 49ers.  The game was the first game at the 49ers home field, Candlestick Park, after the strike ended.  Stabler completed all five of his passes on a 99-yard touchdown drive in the rain, giving New Orleans an early lead, as the Saints survived a late San Francisco rally and beat the 49ers, 23-20. 

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