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‘The Snake’ Stabler joins 'The Dream' in pro sports heaven

Within less than a month of each other, two of my all-time favorite professional athletes passed.
On June 11, Virgil Riley Rummels Jr., much better known as Dusty Rhodes, died and on July 8, just last week, Kenneth Michael Stabler, known to many as “The Snake,” died. Born two months apart in 1945, both were only 69.
Maybe the term athlete is loosely applied to Dusty Rhodes, I don’t know. That is not to say that “wrastlers” are not athletes. However, the idea for this column was the Greatest Raider of Them All Kenny Stabler, not the American Dream. But I did feel the need to pay at least some homage to the man who brought an amazing style of life to the old NWA and the old WCW.
It is Stabler who will get the brunt of the press here. The only starting quarterback on a 1970s Super Bowl champion not in the Hall of Fame, with his death that debate will start anew. A favorite writer of mine, Mitch Albom, said last week on ESPN’s Sports Reporters, “I’m sure the voters [Hall of Fame] have their reasons, but looking back on his career today, those reasons don’t seem right.”
What can I say about Stabler? In his heyday, 1973-1977, his record as a starting QB for the Oakland Raiders was 50-11-1 (the team’s was 56-13-1 over the same period). He was the MVP of the NFL in 1974 and was voted to the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team by Hall of Fame members. In that time, he led the Silver and Black to five consecutive AFC championship games. The fact that he won but one of those, hence only one Super Bowl ring, still haunts me. Three times those losses were to the eventual Super Bowl champions. The fourth loss was an entirely referee-aided loss to Denver in 1977. The Broncos were routed in the finale by the Cowboys. At that point in life, the pristine ‘Boys would not have beaten the “down and dirty” Raiders.
His college you ask? His record was 19-2-1 (1966 and 1967) as the starting QB of Bear Bryant’s Alabama Crimson Tide. He was 11-0 in 1966 with a 34-7 rout of Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl. The Tide finished third in the national rankings (UGA finished fourth) behind Notre Dame and Michigan State as those two tied each other 10-10 in their regular season finale (which neither coach tried to win at the end). Michigan State did not even play in a bowl.
By the way, at Alabama (with Steve Sloan having one year between) Snake followed a Hall of Fame quarterback named Joe Namath. Not arguing Namath’s place in the Hall of Fame, but his career record as a starter in the NFL was 62-63-4 while Stabler’s was 96-49-1.
Over time, certain “named” plays in the NFL have remained famous, or infamous depending on perspective. Stabler was directly involved in three of them and indirectly involved in another. Two of them led to rule changes. There was the “Sea of Hands” and the “Ghost to the Post.” Then there was the “Holy Roller” (“There is nothing real in the world any more” said the Chargers radio announcer). In San Diego, that play is called the “Immaculate Deception.”
Then there is what NFL Films called the greatest play of all-time, “The Immaculate Reception.” Of course this is the play Raider fans call the “Immaculate Deception.” The details of the play itself are not the point here. It was Stabler’s 30-yard touchdown run (in relief of starter Daryle Lamonica) with 1:17 remaining in the game that set up the play.
The epitome of late Raider owner Al Davis’ “Just Win Baby” philosophy, maybe the Hall voters have been concerned with The Snake’s off-field antics (maybe what Albom was speaking to). Unfamiliar? Check out two books -- “Badasses: The Legend of Snake, Foo, Dr. Death and John Madden’s Oakland Raiders” by Peter Richmond and his autobiography entitled simple “Snake.”

Madden, a Hall of Fame coach, says “if you just look at how he played -- he’s a Hall of Fame quarterback. 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 …”
I was going to go from the bad to the good by writing something on the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team. Ran out of room didn’t I? If you have paid attention over the years, you know that I cannot miss a chance to talk about the Oakland Raiders of old.

Burton Kemp Jr. is a contributing writer for the Sylvania Telephone.