John Madden On The Passing Of Ken Stabler
Opening statement from Coach Madden: “Yesterday was a very sad day with the passing of Ken Stabler. It was a shock to all of us. You think that Kenny is one of those guys that whatever you throw in front of him, it’s not going to get him down. Then, when you hear Kenny Stabler died, it’s like a kick in the gut. You think of the good times and the memories, all of the games and all of the practices and all of the meetings. No matter what you throw in front of him, he enjoyed it. He always had a twinkle in his eye and a smile. He was one of the greatest competitors ever. When you think of the Raiders and you think of the Raiders of the 70s, Ken Stabler has to be right on top. He was just, of all the people you coach, and I coached a lot of great ones and a lot of Hall of Famers, he’s one of the guys that is really at the top of the class.”
Madden Remembers Ken “The Snake” Stabler Q & A
Q: Can you think of a logical reason that Ken Stabler is not in the Hall of Fame?
Madden: “No. If you just look at how he played and what kind of quarterback he was, he’s a Hall of Fame quarterback. I think what happens is we get so caught up today in statistics and then comparing statistics. You can’t do that with different eras. For example, when we threw a medium range pass it was 17 yards deep. Now a medium range pass would be 8-10 yards. We didn’t have any of those smokescreens or when you split it out and throw one yard passes, or throw passes behind the line of scrimmage. I’m not saying that’s wrong, that’s the way they play today. But then you look at his stats and his completions and interceptions, the deeper you throw, the more you’re going to have but the more big plays you’re going to have. Then you compare those to the players today and it’s not fair. That’s the only thing that I can think of. If you were to look at Kenny Stabler as an Oakland Raider… we had great rivalries with the Miami Dolphins, who were one of the greatest teams in the history of the NFL, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were also one of the best in the history of the NFL. Terry Bradshaw is in the Hall of Fame and Bob Griese is in the Hall of Fame, and look at Kenny’s record when he played those teams.”
Q: In the last few years there, after the Super Bowl, could you talk about how the tension between Al Davis and Ken Stabler?
Madden: “Not really. There was nothing there. That’s not a thing. I’ll tell you, we won the Super Bowl in the 1976 season, which was ’77. The best team, to me, in the history of the Oakland Raiders was the next year, was ‘77, the year after we won a Super Bowl. We went back, we beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs and they didn’t have Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, and that was one of the things they said. The next year, early in the season, we went back and we played Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh and we beat them there. That was the hardest fought, hardest played game that I can remember. It was also the height of the Raiders. I don’t think there was a ever a team before that or after that who was better than the Raiders. Having said that, we had a lot of injuries in that game. We struggled. We lost the Championship that year to Denver. There was nothing there after the Super Bowl because I thought we were better after the Super Bowl than we were the Super Bowl year. Although the Super Bowl year we only lost one game.”
Q: You were with the organization when they drafted Ken. Can you remember the circumstances?
Madden: “Yeah I do. It was ironic. We drafted another quarterback in the first round, Edlridge Dickey. We were kind of choosing between the two. We had Kenny Stabler rated as the number one pick. So, we took Eldridge Dickey from Tennessee State and then in the next round, the second round, and Kenny Stabler is still there. So we said he’s too good of a player to leave on the board in the second round so we took him. We ended up with two of them. What we didn’t know, and scouting back then isn’t what it is today, is that he had injured his knee and that he needed surgery. We brought him in and then he had to have the surgery so he missed that whole first year. He missed the second year so he really didn’t start playing for the Raiders until the third year that we drafted him.”
Q: Did you ever come to Alabama to visit with Coach Bryant to talk about Ken?
Madden: “Yeah I talked to Coach Bryant about him a lot. I had the greatest respect for Bear Bryant and his quarterbacks. I had George Blanda, who played for Coach Bryant at Kentucky. George would always talk about Coach Bryant, this and that. He was a well-disciplined, well-trained quarterback. Then I had great respect for Joe Namath. I thought, if we can get a quarterback that’s like George Blanda and like Joe Namath on our team, that’s going to be a pretty good deal. Eventually, we did.”
Q: You mentioned yesterday in your statement that you trusted Ken because he was ‘cooler’ under pressure than you. How would you describe his demeanor? How did you balance each other?
Madden: “He helped me because the hotter the game, the hotter I got and Kenny was truly just the opposite, the hotter the game, the cooler he became. We’re playing Baltimore in a playoff game in Baltimore and it was one of the real great games in NFL history, the kind that got lost because it wasn’t a championship game or a Super Bowl game. It went six periods. The end of regulation, we’re tied, and we go another period and then we’re tied and then we’re going into another period. We had a timeout and it’s our ball. We’re just crossing midfield. I’m talking to Kenny during the timeout and he has his helmet cocked back and he’s looking up at the stands and I’m saying let’s do this, let’s do this. Then, he says, ‘you know what, John?’ and I thought, ‘oh great, he has a play.’ So I asked him ‘what?’ and he said ‘these fans are getting their money’s worth today.’ That’s the way he was. I was going all over the board on what we should do, and he was just cool, looking up into the stands. In the Super Bowl against Minnesota, the first couple of drives we got stopped and had to kick field goals. I was all upset about not being able to finish and score. Kenny put his hand on my shoulder and said ‘don’t worry about that, John, there’s plenty more where that came from.” It did affect me. I thought, when he said that, he’s right. I felt a heck of a lot better about it. It was the whole team. That’s what he gave to the team. He would throw a bad pass and it didn’t bother him. He would forget it and go on to the next one. He’d throw a low pass into the dirt and he’d move on to the next play. He didn’t let things affect him. He was always positive. In those days, the quarterback called the plays. There was a lot to that, too. Sometimes we forget how smart Kenny Stabler was. He was a brilliant quarterback with a brilliant football mind. He would set things up. There’s a thing that they don’t even judge anymore, called field general. Ken Stabler was a true field general. The offensive players really believed and followed him. Anything that came out of his mouth, they totally believed.”
On The Field Reports’ Shawn Jonas Asks John Madden:
Q: Could you tell us a story or a quote on things that Kenny would say postgame, after the win or loss?
Madden: “We didn’t have a lot of losses. After the game, he wasn’t one to say a lot. He didn’t give speeches before the game and he didn’t give speeches after the game. He just enjoyed it. He enjoyed football. He enjoyed practice, he enjoyed playing. He enjoyed every part of it. He enjoyed living. After the game, he was just thinking of the next thing. His leadership was brought about the way he presented himself, held himself, and the esteem his teammates held him in.”
Q: Did he say anything after the Holy Roller game?
Madden: “No. I think after that Holy Roller game, you think of Kenny Stabler and you think about how he was involved in more name games than anyone. We were all in shock after that game. We had used our last timeout and we called a play and the last thing I said to Kenny when we went out, I said ‘no matter what happens, the ball has to come out of your hands. We cannot take a sack,’ because the game would have been over. So, he knows that. He’s thinking that and he starts to scramble, he starts to get tackled, he knows he has to get rid of the ball and he does. The rest is history. After that, it was just kind of shock. The day or two after that, then it kind of became like oh yeah, that was a play we work on, we knew what we were doing, and all that bologna. The bologna didn’t follow right after the game.
Q: Thinking back on the character that was Kenny Stabler, was there ever a moment where, knowing he was that kind of free spirited character that you were afraid he’d get that phone call that night before a game. Do you have any stories of that?
Madden: “No. No, because he wasn’t that way. That was, at the time when I was with him, that was overplayed and overrated, and that wasn’t the way he was. I made a deal with him and I don’t know if it would work today, but I made a deal with him that I won’t mess with him in the offseason. I didn’t have one of those things where you have him come in for minicamp, OTAs and all that stuff. I just let him go. I said the offseason is yours, but the tradeoff is you give me the season. The season is mine. And you know I mean anything that I say that we have to do during the season is done. We had meetings before practice, we had meetings after practice, we had meetings at night, and he was always there, he was always attentive, and like I said, he was a brilliant guy, and the stories about him that came out later, to me, the Kenny Stabler, that I know, the stories were vastly exaggerated.
There’s one story, I don’t know if anyone remembers this, someone was talking to his mother about Kenny, and saying, you know, he’s this and he’s that he’s wild and he stays up all night and he does all these things and his mother says, ‘You’re not talking about Kenny, you’re talking about his daddy.’ And I always thought of that quote and I always thought that there’s quite a bit of truth in that.”
Q: How aware would you say you were of the severity of Stabler’s cancer, how advanced it was, and what do you think it says about him that he made it such, that he kept to himself, that so many of his former teammates didn’t have any idea?
Madden: “Yeah, I was unaware. I was not aware of that he had cancer, and I didn’t. That was a big part of the shock, but if you know Kenny Stabler that’s Kenny Stabler. We used to have a thing. Kenny Stabler never went into the training room. And he didn’t want any of his teammates to ever see him getting treatment. He never went in the training room. He wouldn’t be seen in there, he wouldn’t step in there. So, I thought, well this is ridiculous because he would take a little beating during these games too, and he needed treatment. So I would talk to him about it and he just didn’t want to go in the training [room]. So I said, well you know, let’s do it at night, so you know when everyone leaves. And you know George Anderson our trainer would come back at like nine o’clock at night and that’s when he got his treatment. But, he didn’t want any of his teammates to ever see him in the training room getting treatment. And I think that probably followed him through life.”
Q: I was just hoping you could tell us kind of a story, maybe not on the field, but about Ken Stabler that kind of epitomized who he was as a person?
Madden: “Well, you know the thing was, he was always, always ready to help in any way he could. And, when he would go out he was always polite. I mean he was a real southern gentleman, you know. And, he was, we would have post game parties and he would be around and he’d make a point to talk to all the coach’s, all the coach’s wives, and treat them like they were really something. He really treated people with respect and then, the other side of him, like I said, he enjoyed life. He would rather tell a joke or tell a story or hear a joke or hear a story then anything that’s real serious. But, when he had to be serious he’d get down and be as serious as anyone. And, when that wasn’t needed he was just going to enjoy the moment.”
Q: Many players recall the immaculate reception game. What do you remember about it?
Madden: “Yeah, I’ll never forget that game. He did. He came in off the bench and the Steelers didn’t know a lot about Stabler at that time, and they gave him a little room to his left in there pass rush, and he ran, and he ran for a touchdown, and that put us ahead. So that set up the immaculate reception. Now, the Steelers were behind, time was running out, it was a fourth down play, the immaculate reception was, and the last play, last ditch effort, and then that happened. So, he set up the situation that put them behind, that made them get into that mode to make that drive.”
Q: Did you ever wonder if the dynasty would have been different if they didn’t win that game?
Madden: “No, it wouldn’t have been different. I mean, they lost the next week, I think, but that was just the start of their dynasty. I think they probably realized then that, that they had put together a pretty good team, a very good coaching staff and they were ready to make their move. I think that was a thing. I don’t think that they realized that this is the start of the dynasty, but this is definitely our turnaround in the playoffs, going in the right direction now. And, we’re not going to be the same old Steelers.”
Q: What do you credit his, just innate ability to throw the football and get the ball to open receivers?
Madden: “You know that was what he had and do it quickly. I mean he had a thing that would always set in his mind from the time he saw something until the ball left his hand, was the quickest mechanism that I’ve ever seen. And, I don’t know how you measure that or I don’t know exactly what that is, but I mean some guys see it, then they’re going to step, then they’re going to throw, and then it’s too late. I mean he sees it, boom. It would come out and then, you say with great accuracy and that’s what a quarterback has to have. When Kenny Stabler came to us that’s what he had. He didn’t have the strongest arm, but he had a very accurate arm, and he knew where to go with the ball and he could see and read quickly, and then when he read something, and saw and it read it quickly, the ball would be out of his hands. And the thing that I always liked about him, is, I made a statement yesterday, that up until this day, if I had you know, one drive, or we had to make a drive to win the game, I’d want Kenny Stabler as a quarterback. And you just think of, in those situations, and in those drives when he would, when he gets in his drop, in his drop back, and his drop and that back foot would set, then he would stand straight up. I mean, he would get, I don’t know if you ever remembered this or would have seen this, he would get taller. He would make himself taller in the pocket. There’s some guys that tend to make themselves smaller in the pocket, Kenny Stabler would go back and then he would rise. You just think, that’s the way he played. The bigger the situation I’m going to get back, I’m going to get to the head of my drop and I’m going to step and I’m going to rise and then I’m going to rise to the occasion, and that’s what he did. And then, like you say, he just had great accuracy. To me, that was a natural thing more than a taught thing.”