Daily Dose of Crimson Tide: Kenny Stabler
Even though it’s not one of the University of Alabama’s primary colors, they wore black in Tuscaloosa during the 2015 season.
Part of that was in remembrance, others in support of the efforts to finally get him into the Pro Football of Fame, which finally happened a year later.
Regardless, Bryant-Denny Stadium wasn’t the same without Kenny Stabler’s gentlemanly disposition and silver hair that had been noticeably absent from the place was that was essentially his second home for 50-plus years.
Granted, the trips had become few and far between, but his presence and influence could always be felt. That part, at least, would never change.
With a pregame ceremony before Alabama dismantled LSU, fans finally said goodbye to one of its fallen sons, heroes and icons who died on July 9 at the age of 69.
“He loved the University of Alabama, he truly did,” Stabler’s oldest daughter Kendra Stabler Moyes said. “He was proud to be from Alabama and of the University, and he always said so.”
One would be hard-pressed to find a Crimson Tide fan anywhere who doesn’t have some sort of Stabler story, but the best seem to be told by his former teammates. They can still hear his voice in their heads, like when he would enter a huddle and say something like: “Alright guys let’s take this thing down here, knock it in and get us a touchdown and go out tonight and have a good time.
“He loved life and he loved to have a good time and he was a tremendous football player,” Jerry Duncan said.
Nick Saban called him a “legend,” and one retrospective comment that got his attention in particular was from Stabler’s former coach with the Oakland Raiders, John Madden. In addition to saying “The hotter the game, the cooler he got,” he still maintained that if he had one drive to win a game and could pick any quarterback, past or present, he’d go with Stabler.
Saban called it the ultimate compliment for a quarterback.
After taking over the starting job in 1973 he led the Raiders to a 50-11-1 regular-season record over an amazing five years, including the 32-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI.
Overall he played 10 seasons in Oakland (1970-79), and also briefly with the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints, totaling 194 touchdown passes (222 interceptions) and 27,398 passing yards.
Stabler’s record as an NFL starter was 94-49-1, and he ended up playing in more “name” games than anyone, including “The Ghost to the Post,” “The Holy Roller,” and “The Sea of Hands.” Named All-Pro three times, he was the league’s offensive player of the year in 1974, and both the player of the year and passing champion in 1976.
“Kenny is one of those guys that whatever you throw in front of him it’s not going to get him down. Then, when you hear Kenny Stabler died, it’s like a kick in the gut,” Madden told Raiders reporters. “You think of the good times and the memories, all of the games and all of the practices and all of the meetings. No matter what you throw in front of him, he enjoyed it. He always had a twinkle in his eye and a smile. He was one of the greatest competitors ever.”
But Stabler’s legacy was arguably even greater at Alabama, where he compiled a starting record of 28-3-2 and helped lead the 11-0 season of 1966 that didn’t result in a national championship.
“That ’66 team he rarely got his uniform dirty at all because no one ever touched him,” Duncan joked about the player known for the “Run in the Mud,” a 47-yard touchdown that was the difference in a 7-3 victory against Auburn in the 1967 Iron Bowl.
After his playing career concluded he again became a fixture on campus as a color analyst on the Crimson Tide Sports Network (1998-2007). By then he was more than viewed as being a state treasure.
Stabler was born Christmas Day in 1945 in Foley, Ala., where he was a highly regarded high school player, and it was after a long, winding touchdown run that Coach Denzel Hollis first called him “Snake.” Over the years he raised a lot of money for local charities, and spent most of his final years in the Gulf Shores area.
“There is no way to describe the pride an Alabama player feels in himself and the tradition of the school,” Stabler once said about the love affair he had with the university and its fans.
As a result, when the man who seemed to collect friends and memories like they were the most valuable commodities died people reached out in droves any way they could, with the family receiving thousands of cards, emails and messages. They were simply overwhelmed.
“We knew that he was loved, but we had no idea the magnitude,” Moyes said. “They were from all over the world, from places like Japan and Germany, and the really cool thing was that 95 percent of the messages had the same theme, about how he made them feel. ‘He made me feel so special.’”
Above all else that may have been Stabler’s greatest gift. He played the rebel while leading the Raiders, often with a mischievous grin, and maybe made as many headlines off the field as on. But when a game started he was all business, and when it was over he was all charm.
“Traveling the country with him was truly like traveling with a rock star,” Stabler’s radio broadcast partner Eli Gold said. “He’d walk through the airport and it would take forever because folks would want his autograph, take pictures, and he’d never turn down a request for any of that. He was just one of those people that everybody knew.
“Kenny loved people and people loved Kenny. If you didn’t like Kenny Stabler you’ve got a problem. He was just a great, great guy. … The fact that he’s gone now is very, very sad.”
Some of this post originated from "100 Things Crimson Tide Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die," published by Triumph Books