clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Ken Stabler, the man that slayed the dragon, dead at 69

New, comments

Ken Stabler, the quarterback of the 70's Steelers greatest rival, is dead at 69 years old.

Ken Stabler, the Raiders first Super Bowl champion quarterback, passed away Thursday.

Alabama, Stabler's alma mater, issued a statement from his family stating colon cancer was the cause of death. He was 69 years old.

Nicknamed "The Snake" for his slithery ability to scramble in and out of the pocket, Stabler was the backup quarterback on two Crimson Tide national championship-winning teams. He then led 'Bama to an undefeated record in 1966 as the team's starting quarterback.

Drafted 51 spots behind Terry Bradshaw in the 1970 NFL Draft, "The Snake" and the "Blonde Bomber" would spend most of the next decade entrenched in greatest rivalry in NFL history. In the 1972 AFC divisional round game in Pittsburgh, Stabler came off the bench to rush for the go-ahead touchdown before Franco Harris earned immortality with the "Immaculate Reception", giving the Steelers' a dramatic 13-7 win.

The Raiders starting quarterback the next season for the first time, Stabler completed an NFL-best 62.7 percent of his passes and led Oakland to the 1973 AFC Championship, where they fell to Don Shula's eventual Super Bowl champion Dolphins. Stabler, who earned All-Pro honors in '74, got his revenge a year later by finding Clarence Davis in the end zone to dethrone Miami in the classic  "Sea of Hanks" game. But Stabler and the Raiders would again run into a roadblock in the AFC title game, falling to the Steelers in Oakland, 24-13. The Steelers prevailed in the AFC Championship Game a year later, as the Steel Curtain and a curtain of ice that covered Three Rivers Stadium proved to be too much in a 16-10 Pittsburgh victory.

In 1976, The Snake and the Raiders finally broke through. Led by Stabler, who paced the NFL in completion percentage and touchdown passes, Oakland steamrolled through the regular season, going 13-1 and escaping New England in the divisional round of the playoffs. Once again, the Steelers stood in their way in the AFC title game, armed with the best defense in NFL history, a defense that allowed a mere 28 points in their final nine regular season games.

With Harris and Rocky Bleier out with injuries, Stabler took no mercy on his wounded foe. He threw a pair of touchdown passes that afternoon while becoming the quarterback to finally slay the dragon that was the Steel Curtain defense in Oakland's 24-7 victory. And while they defeated the Vikings handily in the Super Bowl two weeks later, Stabler and the Raiders would say for decades that their win over the Steelers was by far the most satisfying win of their lives.

Stabler would play eight more seasons following his Super Bowl victory, retiring after the 1984 season. Three decades following his final snap, The Snake remains an essential fixture in NFL lore. He was apart of the "Holly Roller" play, along with the famous pass to Dave Casper in the playoffs dubbed "The Ghost to the Post". You can't talk about the history of the NFL without mentioning Ken Stabler, who also helped create the Raiders mystique as the most rebellious team ever assembled.

You also can't talk about the 1970s Steelers dynasty without mentioning The Snake. You can't be a great team without a great adversary, and the Raiders were just that. The Raiders were the perfect villain, a role that Stabler and his teammates more than relished.

Ken Stabler's contributions to the NFL can't be measured in statistics, and also not in the moments that helped define him, his team, and the era in which he was apart of. No, Ken Stabler is defined by his aura, the aura that continues to exist within that Raiders team and organization, the aura that he helped create more than anyone not named Al Davis.

Steelers Nation knows far too well about the sting of losing great players from their heyday. L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White, and Ernie Holmes are among those great players from the 70's Steelers to pass away over the past decade. But our loss today is their gain, as finally, L.C., Dwight, and Ernie have a quarterback to chase around in heaven.

Rest in peace, Snake. BTSC sends their thoughts and prayers to the Stabler family and all the Raiders fans that are morning his loss.