Ken Stabler, former Raiders QB, dies

ESPN logo
Friday, July 10, 2015

Former Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler died Wednesday from complications resulting from Stage 4 colon cancer, the team confirmed Thursday. He was 69.

"The Raiders are deeply saddened by the passing of the great Ken Stabler," owner Mark Davis said in a team release. "He was a cherished member of the Raider family and personified what it means to be a Raider. He wore the silver and black with pride and poise and will continue to live in the hearts of Raider fans everywhere. Our sincerest thoughts and prayers go out to Kenny's family."

A native of Foley, Alabama, Stabler threw for 27,938 yards during his 15-year career in the NFL, compiling a 96-49-1 record as a starting quarterback and a win over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI. He played for the Raiders from 1970 to 1979, winning the NFL MVP award in 1974 and earning Pro Bowl honors four times.

"I was head coach of the Raiders the entire time Kenny was there, and he led us to a whole bunch of victories, including one in Super Bowl XI," former Raiders coach John Madden said in the team release. "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. Snake was a lot cooler than I was. He was a perfect quarterback and a perfect Raider. When you think about the Raiders you think about Ken Stabler. Kenny loved life. It is a sad day for all Raiders."

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.

ESPN Raiders reporter Bill Williamson andThe Associated Press contributed to this report.

Related Video