In this CLS profile, we look back at the glory days of the Oakland Raiders, and the quarterback who led them there. A true original, Ken “The Snake” Stabler is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but for Raiders fans of old, he continues to be a larger than life figure.
If any quarterback personified the Raiders of old, it was Ken Stabler. He was a southern gentlemen out of the University of Alabama, like Joe Namath, who was the starting QB when Stabler was a freshman. Stabler was the heart and soul of the old Raiders teams, by which I meant he bent rules, was not the typical example of what a football player should be, and pushed the limits of the game he played, all of which is best exemplified by the best quote he ever gave:
When asked about his (alleged) nonstop partying, his response was “how much sleep do you need to play a three-hour game?”
However, Stabler had options coming out of high school. He was a good basketball player, and a good enough pitcher in baseball to elicit contract offers from the New York Yankees and Houston Astros. However, he chose football, perhaps to keep his nickname, The Snake, given to him after a long, winding (and probably exhausting) touchdown run in high school, where he went 29-1 as a starter.
When Stabler landed in the NFL, after a relatively successful career at Alabama, he was drafted by Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders. Al Davis liked making moves that were a little ahead of their time, proving the rest of the NFL wrong; he also just liked making good personnel moves, and Stabler fit the bill. Stabler could move; he was not a running quarterback, but he was mobile, being able to move in and around the pocket until one of his receivers got open. He was left-handed too, which is notable for the time, considering that many wondered if a left-hander could play quarterback at one point.
His abilities earned him many accolades, and he was a solid contributor to the Raiders teams of the 1970s. His ingenuity included a play so controversial that the NFL made a rule revision specifically because of it: the Holy Roller, in which he deliberately fumbled the ball forward on a desperation fourth down play, since there were no open wide receivers, no clear running lanes, and he was about to be sacked, and in a small miracle, a Raiders WR named Dave Casper, aka the Ghost, fell on the ball in the endzone, resulting in a game-winning Raiders touchdown as time expired.
Of course, he had a reputation for partying, and being a ladies’ man, in a sense the Joe Namath of the west coast. His ability to work through it, to play like that, is something of a legend amongst some football historians. It is something that few other teams probably would have tolerated (Vince Lombardi in particular was renowned for threatening to blackball players who acted out of line), but on the Raiders it was part of the anti-establishment (or rather anti-NFL) culture that permeated the Raiders.
Stabler became a Super Bowl-winning quarterback in Super Bowl XI, in which he threw 12-19, 180 yards, and a touchdown; notably, a few passes of his set up running touchdowns on the next play. Although not the Super Bowl MVP, he was a vital part of the Raiders’ system that year, with Willie Brown being his opposite number on defense. The Raiders Super Bowl victory, one of three, is a milestone in not just the career of Ken Stabler, but of the Raiders as a whole.
Of course, Stabler’s second most famous play ever also came with with a nickname, the famous “Ghost to the Post,” in which Dave Casper caught a touchdown against the Colts in the 1977 AFC playoffs to force overtime, which eventually led to a Raiders victory. The play is a reminder of the greatness of not just the Raiders, but the significance of their quarterback.
Following a dispute with Al Davis, Ken Stabler would play for the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints for a total of five more seasons, but his career languished, and he retired after the 1984 season. His playing days over, he left fans of Raiders football with an incredible legacy of stunning moments, incredible plays, and a Super Bowl victory. Stabler is a legend of the old days, something that cannot be easily dismissed.