The Raiders haven’t been known for their quarterback play over their storied history. But the late Hall of Famer Ken Stabler was different, and it’s why he’s regarded as one of the franchise’s most beloved players.
Stabler entered the NFL as a second-round pick out of Alabama in the 1968 draft. But he wouldn’t make his professional debut for another couple of years and wouldn’t truly begin to make his mark until a playoff game in 1972.
While the 1972 AFC Divisional Round game is better known for Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris’ “Immaculate Reception,” Stabler made that play necessary. Starting quarterback Daryle Lamonica had the flu, and Stabler entered the game as his replacement in the fourth quarter. He took a 30-yard scramble to the end zone late in the fourth quarter, giving the Raiders a 7-6 lead.
Of course, Harris’ 60-yard touchdown gave the Steelers a 13-7 victory.
Still, Raiders owner Mark Davis told ESPN in 2016 that game was “when he (Stabler) started to get his groove on.”
Stabler took over as the Raiders’ starting quarterback during the 1973 season and became the franchise’s most prolific passer. The left-hander wasn’t known for having the strongest arm, but he was crafty enough to put the ball where it needed to be. Stabler was a four-time Pro Bowler (1973, 1974, 1976, 1977) and won the MVP award in 1974 after leading the league with 26 passing touchdowns.
Though the Raiders played in five consecutive AFC championship games with Stabler at the helm, they advanced only to Super Bowl XI in the 1976 season — defeating the Vikings 32-14.
“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,” Hall of Fame Raiders coach John Madden said in a statement upon Stabler’s death in 2015. “Snake was a lot cooler than I was. He was a perfect quarterback and a perfect Raider.”
The late Raiders owner Al Davis traded Stabler to the Houston Oilers before the 1980 season — beginning a decadeslong feud that lasted until a meeting between Davis and Stabler in 2009. Still, Stabler finished his 10-year tenure as a Raiders quarterback as the franchise leader with 19,078 yards and 150 passing touchdowns.
Stabler died of colon cancer in June 2015 at age 69. After his death, researchers at Boston University diagnosed Stabler with Stage 3 CTE — the degenerative brain disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head.
Current Raiders quarterback Derek Carr broke Stabler’s passing yardage record this season. While Carr needed just over five seasons to surpass Stabler’s total, he needs seven passing touchdowns to tie Stabler’s franchise record — speaking to the longevity of Stabler’s accomplishments with the team.