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Is ‘Snake’ Ken Stabler Still Alabama’s Greatest QB Ever?
AP Photo/Ferd Kaufman

The University of Alabama Crimson Tide might as well be a minor league system for the National Football League. Since 2000, 118 players have been drafted out of Tuscaloosa, a majority of which can be attributed to dynamite college football recruiting classes from Nick Saban (and his wife, Miss Terry, of course).

Derrick Henry. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Julio Jones. CJ Mosley. It seems like there’s a Pro-Bowler at every position who once donned the Crimson and White and the Alabama “A” on their helmets in their college days.

That trend has been alarmingly true except at one position: quarterback. The best of the recent “game managers” to come out of UA was AJ McCarron, who set numerous program records and won two national championships, yet has been relegated to the bench most of his pro career. Tua Tagovailoa, however, looks poised to change that narrative.

Scroll through the Alabama football record books and you’ll find McCarron has a good argument for best signal caller in program history, but I’d make the case for a guy who actually went on to have a viable career on an NFL field: quarterback Ken Stabler.

Kenny Stabler, AKA “The Snake”, was a left-hander who could do it all. He could fire passes out of the pocket or keep the ball and run it himself, like he did in his famous “Run in the Mud” game-winning touchdown in the 1967 Iron Bowl against Auburn. Winding rushes in football games like that were exactly how he earned his reptilian nickname.

Kenny Stabler at Alabama

When he first arrived on campus in 1964, Stabler was placed on the freshman team behind starter Joe Namath, who won a national title that year under coach Bear Bryant.

He played the role of backup behind Steve Sloan in 1965 when the Crimson Tide won their second consecutive national championship.

Finally in 1966, Stabler broke out as the team’s starter. Behind the arm and legs of the gunslinger, Alabama finished a perfect 11-0 after a dominating win over Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl. The Tide were snubbed in favor of Michigan State and Notre Dame in the final polls, though. Stabler’s numbers — 956 passing yards, 397 rushing yards and 12 total touchdowns — aren’t eye-popping today but his efficient 152.7 quarterback rating is.

Here’s the thing: Bryant’s teams were notoriously run-heavy. For example, that season the Crimson Tide ran the ball nearly 50 times per game. They averaged just 17.4 pass attempts per game. Stabler had to do more with less opportunities.

Stabler’s senior season didn’t live up to expectations, as the Tide finished 8-2-1. He threw for 1,200 yards but tossed more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (9). Stabler, who was at one point booted off of the team for partying and skipping class, did at least produce his memorable swan song moment in that 1967 Iron Bowl.

The southpaw finished his college career with 2,196 passing yards (19th in Alabama history) and 27 total touchdowns. Like I said, though, context is important. Stabler did that in 303 pass attempts. Joe Namath totaled 2,700 yards in 374 attempts. Tagovailoa, in 2018 alone, attempted 355 passes.

Stabler’s competition for the top spot boils down to Joe Namath, Bart Starr, the aforementioned McCarron and the quick-rising Tagovailoa. Stabler, Namath and Starr have all won Super Bowls as starting quarterbacks, which helps their case.

Maybe Stabler’s resume can persuade you:

  • Super Bowl XI Champion (1976)
  • NFL MVP (1974)
  • Four-time Pro Bowl (1973-74, 1976-77)
  • Two-time First-Team All-Pro (1974, 1976)
  • Bert Bell Award (1976)
  • NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1974)
  • Two-time AFC Player of the Year (1974, 1976)
  • Two-time NFL passing touchdowns leader (1974, 1976)
  • NFL passer rating leader (1976)
  • NFL 1970s All-Decade Team
  • NCAA National Champion (1976)
  • First-team All-American (1967)
  • First-team All-SEC (1967)

As an Oakland Raider, Stabler became the fastest to win 100 games as a starter. He needed 150 games to do so, which bested Johnny Unitas’ previous record in 153. Just three quarterbacks since then — Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Tom Brady — have eclipsed his mark.

Stabler finished his NFL career with 27,938 passing yards and 194 touchdowns but a whopping 222 interceptions. Most of his phenomenal years came on John Madden’s Oakland Raiders of the 1970s, where he won a Super Bowl against the Minnesota Vikings in 1976.

Here’s how Namath and Starr stack up professionally

  • Namath: 27,633 yards, 173 touchdown passes, 220 interceptions
  • Starr: 24,718 yards, 152 touchdown passes, 138 interceptions

Stabler began his Oakland career in 1968 by excelling for the Spokane Shockers of the Continental Football League and ended as the franchise’s all-time passing leader.

Ugly is the easiest way to describe the back end of Stabler’s career. He was traded to the Houston Oilers in 1980 and paired up with the great Earl Campbell. By ‘82 he was shipped off the New Orleans Saints. In his last five years split between those franchises, he tallied 44 TDs and 79 interceptions.

Even Nathan Peterman has probably wondered how he remained a starter for so long.

High School Days

Everywhere he played, Stabler won. As a star recruit at Foley High School in Foley, Alabama, the youngster went 29-1 over his career. He was gifted in basketball and baseball, too, averaging nearly 30 points a game and receiving contract offers from the Houston Astros and New York Yankees as a pitching prospect.

After his college career, the southpaw turned down Major League Baseball opportunities three times and signed with the Raiders after being selected in the second round of the 1968 AFL/NFL Draft.

Post-Playing Career

Stabler turned to the broadcasting booth after hanging up the cleats. He started out working NFL games for CBS before transitioning to calling Alabama games on radio alongside longtime Crimson Tide voice Eli Gold. He left that job in 2008. He also ran his own charity, the XOXO Stabler Foundation, which aimed “to raise funds, build awareness and hope for a variety of charitable causes.”

In his 1986 autobiography, Snake, he wrote about his wild party days as a player. Some anecdotes included planting cocaine in a reporter’s car and collecting panties of women he slept with.

Stabler passed away in 2015 in Gulfport, Mississippi, from colon cancer at 69. In February of 2016, the New York Times reported Boston University brain disease researchers found Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in the football player’s brain.

Stabler was an Alabama kid through and through. In 1974 he and other NFL stars signed up to play in the World Football League, where he could play back home for the Birmingham Americans. The league folded in 1975 and Stabler never got the chance to play in it.

Stabler is buried at Pine Rest Cemetery in his hometown of Foley, Alabama. The Alabama and Oakland football legend lives in forever, as he was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame>\ in 2016.

Stabler was married three times and is survived by his three daughters: Kendra Stabler Moyes, Alexa Stabler-Adams and Marissa Leigh Stabler. Alexa is a NFLPA certified sports agent.

READ MORE: Set Sail on the ‘Crimson Tide Cruise’ Alongside Alabama Football Legends

Patrick has spent parts of the last four years covering University of Florida athletics and spent two seasons with Major League Baseball. He's a baseball junkie who spends his days defending Derek Jeter and the Miami Marlins. A recent Gator grad, Patrick currently resides in Gainesville, Florida.
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