I’m a 49er fan to be sure. But until 1980, I was a die hard Oakland Raiders fan. As a freshman in high school, I wrote a paper that was supposed to be about William Shakespeare but instead, I wrote it on George Blanda, the kicker and second string Raider QB. I got a C on the paper. She penalized me two full letter grades over the topic which I considered a moral victory.
When Al Davis announced the Raiders were leaving their fairly new sold out stadium in Oakland to move to El Lay, it was one worst days of my life. I was instantly done with the Raiders and football in general. I tore down the Raider posters in my dorm room at San Jose State, openly cursed Al (I nearly had a multiple schadenfreudegasm when he died because fuck Al Davis) and was done with them forever. My loyalty was in a dumpster along with the posters of Blanda, Kenny Stabler, Fred Biletnikoff and Jim Otto.
That was the end of a golden era when the Raiders were unlike any team in sports. It was a time when you could actually go to Rickey’s in San Leandro after the game and the players would be there and they’d buy you a drink. The Raiders of the ‘70s were a rough-and-tumble, no nonsense group that played (and partied) on the edge 100% of the time.
No one personified this more that Kenny “The Snake” Stabler who died Wednesday of colon cancer at the age of 69.
When he replaced the wooden, inaccurate, immobile “Mad Bomber” Daryle Lamonica at quarterback, it was a revelation. He was wicked smart, wicked quick, wicked accurate and well, wicked. He could find any receiver on the field. He called his own plays. John Madden eventually threw him the playbook and said “go win” because he knew The Snake could see and feel more of the game in the moment than the coaches ever could ensconced in the safety of the sideline.
I’m not going to recite statistics (although Kenny’s were great) or accomplishments (there were many but you can Google them). What made Kenny one of the greatest quarterbacks in history were his arm, his brains and his leadership. He was Tom Brady without the Audi R8, $40 million mansion and supermodel. After the game, he’d bum a ride to a bar and shoot the shit. He was a football player rather than a faux celebrity.
He (and John Madden) left the Raiders after the 1979 season when Al didn’t want to pay him. The timing was perfect. We were both done with Al at almost the same time.
When I learned yesterday that Kenny’s last wish was that his brain and spine be donated to the Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center, as sad as I was, I had to smile.
He had plenty of both.