I find it very appropriate that the announcement of the late Kenny Stabler being named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame came on the biggest party weekend along the Alabama Gulf Coast. Because if “The Snake” had a mantra, it was “Let the Good Times Roll.”
An incredibly gifted athlete, Stabler was a winner on every level of competition. At Foley High School from 1961 to 1963, he quarterbacked the squad to a 29-1 record in the days prior to the state playoffs. It was in Baldwin County that he earned his famous nickname, bestowed on him by a coach after an amazing serpentine-style run produced a touchdown.
In basketball, he averaged an impressive 29 points per game. He was even a star on the baseball diamond as a left-handed pitcher who would eventually be chosen in the Major League Baseball draft.
But football was where Stabler gained his greatest fame. Recruited by Paul “Bear” Bryant, he had a 28-3-2 record as a Crimson Tide starter. His reputation began to grow as a senior, when he was suspended from the team for partying and cutting class. However, he was reinstated in time to beat Auburn 7-3 on his iconic 53-yard “Run in the Mud” which produced the game’s only touchdown.
Drafted by the Oakland Raiders, he appeared to have secured a playoff win in 1972 on a 30-yard touchdown run. The play was lost in time, though, thanks to the “Immaculate Reception” by Pittsburgh’s Franco Harris. Several knee injuries would limit Stabler’s future scrambling, but his incredible passing skills helped him to be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1974. He led the Raiders to their first Super Bowl title in January 1977, and was a four-time All-Pro selection.
Stabler was the ultimate quarterback for the Raiders, who were the antithesis of the buttoned-up and often conservative NFL. In 1978, the infamous “Holy Roller” game took place when Stabler began a three-man forward fumble that resulted in a 21-20 win over San Diego. The NFL would later establish the “Kenny Stabler Rule,” which would only permit a fumbling player to cover the ball in the fourth quarter.
John Madden, Stabler’s coach at Oakland, had high praise for his unorthodox leader. “I’ve often said, if I had one drive to win a game to this day, I would pick Kenny,” the famous broadcaster said. “Snake was a lot cooler than I was. He was a perfect quarterback and a perfect Raider. When you think about Kenny, you think about the Raiders.”
Despite being the Raiders’ all-time leader in completions, passing yards and touchdowns, he was traded to the Houston Oilers. Stabler would wrap up his 15-year NFL career closer to home with the New Orleans Saints.
For better or worse, Stabler remained in the headlines after hanging up his helmet. He raised thousands of dollars for the Ronald McDonald House of Mobile with his celebrity golf tournaments in Point Clear. He was a popular radio analyst for Alabama football games, but left the booth after being charged with a DUI in 2008. His troubles continued as he lost homes in downtown Mobile and on Ono Island because of tax problems with the IRS.
Through it all, Stabler remained a hero for many local fans. He was often seen around Mobile and at the Gulf, always happy to pose for pictures or to shake a hand.
Then in July 2015 came the sad news Stabler had died of colon cancer at the age of 69. Then, just prior to his Hall of Fame announcement, it was revealed Stage 3 chronic traumatic encephalopathy — a degenerative disease linked to repeated concussions — was discovered in Stabler’s brain after his death.
My one personal contact with Stabler came when I was a young reporter in Pascagoula, Mississippi. He was asked to speak to the crew of the USS Mobile Bay while it was at Ingalls Shipbuilding. Stabler kept the officers and sailors enthralled for hours with his many tales.
At the end, I had my chance for a one-on-one interview. I told him I’d enjoyed reading his autobiography, and that my favorite quote was no one had ever told him he couldn’t study his playbook by the light of a jukebox. He just smiled, and said, “That would just about sum things up.”
Stabler was a legend to me, and I doubt there will ever be another one like him.
Tornado warnings in ABA
The Mobile Bay Tornados basketball team remains atop the ABA Power Rankings with an impressive 13-0 record. Their latest victory was a 135-118 rout of the Daytona Beach Sharks at LeFlore High School.
Double-figure scoring was supplied by Anthony Sims Jr. (28), Erik Thrash (27), Tim Amerson (27) and James Buford (22). Ivan Washington came off the bench to contribute eight rebounds.
The next home games will be against the Jackson Showboats on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Both games will be at the LeFlore gym, located at 700 Donald St. To learn more about the team, visit www.MobileBayTornados.com.
USA off and running
The track and field team for the University of South Alabama is off to a notable start. Rafael Scott was recently voted the Sun Belt Conference’s student-athlete of the week after breaking the school record in the 60-meter dash for the second time in as many meets, with a 6.66-second effort. He also set a personal best in the 200-meter-dash in 21.58 seconds during a meet in New Orleans.
The squad then traveled to Birmingham, where freshman Sean Collins cleared 5.42 meters in the men’s pole vault, beating his own school record and ranking among the top10 in the nation. Sophomore Jordan Friz’s 4-meter vault in the women’s competition is the best in the SBC this year. USA won the women’s title thanks to a triple jump victory by Kaitlyn Beans (12.8 meters). For the men, Scott finished first in the 60-meter dash (6.71 seconds) while Christoph Graf won the 800-meter run (1:54.24).