Stabler first showed his professional chops in a 1972 playoff game best known for the Immaculate Reception. Mostly forgotten was that Stabler replaced starter Daryle Lamonica and led the Raiders to what seemed to be the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter — until Franco Harris’ spectacular catch and run won the game for Pittsburgh.
Oakland lost two of its first three games in the next season, scoring no touchdowns with Lamonica behind center. After a loss to archrival Kansas City, Madden gave Stabler a chance to show what he could do in practice. Stabler did enough for Madden to start him, and the Raiders beat the St. Louis Cardinals — and then won four straight games after that.
Stabler remained the starter for more than seven seasons, allegedly studying the game plan by the light of a jukebox — if he studied it at all. He prided himself on being able to wing it, and few quarterbacks did it better in the clutch.
But for all of his bravado, Stabler was not a wild thrower. He was one of the most accurate passers of his time.
“The bigger the situation,” Madden said, “the calmer he got.”
Cornerback Lester Hayes joined the Raiders in 1977. He said he was “amazed” by Stabler.
“I never saw anything like it,” Hayes said. “He had pinpoint accuracy. He was like Madison Bumgarner. Fastballs, slider, just pinpoint accuracy. … Back in the ’70s, we had a lot of love on our team. Kenny was a big part of that.”
Hall of Fame linebacker Ted Hendricks was an Oakland teammate of Stabler’s from 1975 to 1979. He said Thursday evening that he had no idea Stabler was ill.
“That was him. He just wanted to fight it quietly,” Hendricks said. “He was such a gentleman. We’re going to miss him. He was always charming, and he was a great a football player.”
Before being drafted by the Raiders in the second round of the 1968 NFL draft, Stabler played college football at Alabama.
Current Alabama coach Nick Saban got to know Stabler from golf tournaments and Stabler’s stint as an analyst on Alabama radio broadcasts.
“I think anyone who had the chance to get to know Kenny would appreciate the great person he was and the pride he had for the University of Alabama,” Saban said in a prepared statement. “I have had the chance to be around some of the best to ever play college and pro football, and Kenny may have been one of the greatest competitors to ever play the game.”
After moving on from Oakland, Stabler played two years for the Houston Oilers and three for the New Orleans Saints before retiring after the 1984 season.
Stabler’s family released a statement through his foundation, saying he had been battling cancer since February.
“He passed peacefully surrounded by the people he loved most, including his three daughters and longtime partner, as some of his favorite songs played in the background, such as Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and Van Morrison’s ‘Leaves Falling Down,'” the statement read in part.
Stabler’s brain and spinal cord were donated to Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center to support research into degenerative brain disease among athletes, according to the family.
- December, 25, 1945
- Foley, Alabama
- July, 08, 2015
- Gulfport, Mississippi
Cause of Death
- Colon cancer