The Snake.

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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.


Al Davis is Dead.

Al Davis, noted football man and plaintiff

He owned the Oakland Raiders. I was a massive Oakland Raider fan as a kid. Massive. I wrote my freshman english Shakespeare paper on George Blanda (a Raider player) rather than The Merchant of Venice. I got a C on the paper because it was not about The Merchant of Venice but Miss Winner couldn’t bear to give me less than a C because it was such a well-written paper. This in a way got me thinking about writing which led me to a journalism degree. I digress.

Everyone hated Al even then. But one sad day, he took my team and moved them to Los Angeles where they went from being a ‘blue collar’ team to being a ‘teardrop tattoo, what makes you think I won’t cut you, gang colors’ team. I tore down all my Raider posters of Belitnekoff, Blanda, Otto et al and while I respected the players, the Raiders as an entity were dead to me as was Al himself. Like taking candy from a baby,  he bilked the well-meaning but clueless rubes who run Oakland out of millions of dollars they didn’t have and came slinking back north. You knew that whatever happened be it lawsuits, financial disagreements, scuffles with the powers that be in the NFL offices, Al would win through bullying, selfishness and intimidation. While he couldn’t always win on the field in the later years, you didn’t want to cross him in a courtroom, backroom or alley.

He was a walking, breathing monument to the non-existence of karma. But like him or not, he spent every day the last half century doing doing exactly what he wanted to do and answering to no one until he died peacefully in his home at age 82 as if to give us the finger one last time.