Ken Stabler, the snake, reposes


en Stabler, who was one of pro football’s leading quarterbacks of the 1970s and took the Oakland to their first Bowl victory, died on Wednesday in Gulfport, Mississippi. He was 69.

The cause was colon cancer, which had been diagnosed in February, his family said. The family said his brain and spinal cord were being donated to Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center to support research into degenerative brain disease among athletes.

Stabler was known as the Snake for his elusiveness on the field, at least in his early football years, though knee problems eventually caught up with him. One of football’s uncommon left-handed quarterbacks, he was named to the National Football League’s all-decade team for the 1970s and was a four-time Pro Bowl selection, though he missed out on entering the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He was drafted by the Raiders in 1968 out of the University of Alabama, where he played for Bear Bryant’s powerful teams. While the Raider quarterback from 1970 to 1979, he led the N.F.L. twice in touchdown passes and twice in passing completion percentage. He was among the top 10 quarterbacks in passing yardage seven times. His passing helped take the Raiders to a 32-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI in January 1977.

“I’ve often said, if I had one drive to win a game to this day, and I had a quarterback to pick, I would pick Kenny,” John Madden, Stabler’s coach with the Raiders, said in a statement upon his death. “When you think about the Raiders, you think about Ken Stabler.”

Stabler had an outstanding receiver corps, most notably Fred Biletnikoff, Cliff Branch and Dave Casper. “He was very cool and calm in big situations,” Herm Edwards, the ESPN pro football analyst who played cornerback for the Philadelphia Eagles during Stabler’s time, said Thursday night.

Stabler was named the N.F.L.’s most valuable player in 1974 by The Associated Press, having thrown for 26 touchdowns and 2,469 yards. He was honored as the American Football Conference player of the year by The Sporting News in 1974 and ’76.

Kenneth Michael Stabler was born on Christmas Day 1945 in Foley, he played for Alabama from 1965 to 1967, and an heir to Joe Namath (a Pennsylvanian) who had taken the Crimson Tide to a national championship before joining the Jets.

As a junior, Stabler led Alabama to an 11-0 season, concluding with a rout of Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl. He threw for nine touchdown passes in both his junior and senior seasons and amassed 2,196 yards passing over all.

Stabler reading fan mail in the Oakland Raiders’ training room in 1973.
Credit Sal Veder/Associated Press

After his 10 seasons with the Raiders, Stabler played for the Houston Oilers for two seasons and the New Orleans Saints for his final three seasons. He was acquired by the Oilers in 1980 for quarterback Dan Pastorini and led Houston to the playoffs, where he lost in a wild-card game to the Raiders, the eventual Super Bowl champions.

He concluded his career by following Bum Phillips, his coach with the Oilers, when Phillips became the Saints’ coach. Stabler threw for 194 touchdowns and 27,938 yards in his 15 N.F.L. seasons.

He is survived by his daughters Kendra, Alexa and Marissa; his sister, Carolyn Bishop; and two grandchildren.

Stabler was involved in some memorable plays.  The first was was what has become known as the Holy Roller.  Here the Snake  fumbled the ball forward toward Casper, who recovered it in the end zone for a game-winning touchdown against the San Diego Chargers in 1978. 

“I fumbled it on purpose,” Stabler was quoted as saying by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.   As a result, the N.F.L. changed its rule on forward fumbles.
The second time was the play that become known as the Sea of Hands.  Here he lofted a pass into the end zone that Raiders running back Clarence Davis caught in the midst of several Miami Dolphin defenders, resulting in a 1974 A.F.C. playoff victory for Oakland.