It is Picture Day at Alabama and Joe Namath is the center of attention. Already, the 5,000 media booklets printed by the athletic department are almost sold out, and writers from around the South are picking the Tide, LSU and Auburn to battle defending champion Ole Miss for the championship. A picture of Paul Bryant and Namath conversing on the bench is the featured photo on this year's media book cover.
Sally and Leroy “Slim” Stabler had a special Christmas present in 1945 with the birth of their son Ken Michael Stabler. Ken was born and raised in Foley, Alabama. He was a multi-talented athlete Ken excelled in any sport he tried. He averaged 29 points a game for the Foley High Lions basketball squad. As quarterback he led the football team to a 29-1 record, three championships and garnered All-State honors. For his running prowess Ken acquired a nickname that stuck with him until this day. Called the Snake by his coach Ivan Jones, Stabler dodged and weaved his way through opposing defenders. He was equally as talented on the baseball diamond and received contract offers from the New York Yankees and Houston Astros systems.
Signed to a college football scholarship by legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, Stabler enrolled at the University of Alabama in 1964. NCAA rules at the time did not allow freshmen to play and he watched Joe Namath lead the Crimson Tide to a National Championship. In 1965 Stabler shared quarterback duties with Steve Sloan and they lead Alabama to a second consecutive title capped by a 39-28 Orange Bowl victory over Nebraska. With what is considered by many to be the best Tide squads of all-time, Stabler and his teammates rolled to an 11-0 season again finishing with a win over Nebraska, this time by a 34-7 margin in the Sugar Bowl. In the final polls the Tide was placed third behind Notre Dame and Michigan State. Stabler’s senior season ended with an 8-2-1 record. During the Auburn game that year Stabler accomplished one of the most memorable plays in Alabama football history later called “The Run in the Mud”. The two arch rivals were played during a torrential downpour on a very muddy Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama.Trailing 3-0, Stabler broke loose for a 47 yard touchdown run behind great blocking to seal the 7-3 victory. Bobby Johns and Stabler were elected captains of the 1967 team. Ken was honored with All-SEC and All-America selections in ’67. During his Bama career Stabler completed 180 0f 303 passes (59.4%), 16 of which were for touchdowns. He also rushed for 838 years on 365 attempts and scored nine more touchdowns.
Stabler’s professional career began in 1968 when he was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the second round of the draft. Aided by a stellar receiving core that included Cliff Branch, Dave Casper and Fred Biletnikoff he quarterbacked the Raiders from 1973-’79. At the age of 31 Stabler and his teammates won Super Bowl XI 32-14 over the Minnesota Vikings before 103,000 fans in Pasadena, California. He was named the AFC Player of the Year in 1974 and 1976. The Associated Press selected him NFL MVP in 1974. Stabler won the Hickok Belt in 1976 as professional athlete of the year and named to the Pro Bowl ’74, ’76 and ’77. Stabler was traded to the Houston Oilers where played the 1980 and 1981 seasons. He finished his professional career after three seasons with the New Orleans Saints. He played in 184 games completing 2270 out of 3793 passes for a 56.3 completion percentage with 194 touchdowns.
The NFL has a rule sometimes called the “Ken Stabler Rule” as he was involved in a play that leads to the change. When the play started the raiders trailed 20-14 with ten seconds left in the game. As time expired in the 1978 game verses the San Diego Chargers Stabler intentional fumbled the ball forward. After being batted and kicked around by Oakland players it was recovered by the Raiders tight end Dave Casper in the end zone for the 21-20 winning score.The referees conferred and decided the play was legal and the score was confirmed. League officials amended the rule the next off season to say only the player fumbling the ball recover and can advance it.
Stabler worked as a color TV commentator for CBS and TNT and had radio shows in Oakland and New Orleans. He worked eleven years as the color analyst of the University of Alabama football radio broadcasts.
Stabler was elected by Alabama fans as the quarterback of the century along with Joe Namath in 1992. He was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in the class of 1986. In 2006 he authored a children’s book titled, Roll Tide! He resides in the Gulf Shores, Alabama area and is a frequent event speaker and holds an annual charity golf event.