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Ken Stabler, Responsible for 3 Legendary Plays, Passes Away

Without Kenny Stabler, who passed away Wednesday, scouts may have never believed a left-handed quarterback could make it in the NFL and football fans would have not witnessed three of the greatest plays ever in the “Immaculate Reception,” the “Immaculate Deception” and the “Run in the Mud.”

“The Snake.” one of the greatest at finding a way to win yet twice he seemed unfairly denied in his bids for championships, finally won the Super Bowl as the top player in the NFL in 1976.

In 1966, Stabler became Alabama’s starting quarterback and put on one of the greatest displays in college football history. Not only did the team go 11-0, they won their last five games 144-7, including blowouts of LSU, Auburn, and Nebraska on ABC. In a terrible injustice, Stabler’s Tide was voted No. 3 in the country behind Notre Dame and Michigan State to deny him the title despite the fact that the Tide was given the national title the two previous years despite not going undefeated either time.

No one could figure out a way to win better than Stabler.

The next year when the Iron Bowl was soaked with mud, it appeared Auburn would win a 3-0 game. All Stabler did was take the game in his hands, er, feet, with the longest run of the season by Alabama, a 53-yard weave through the Auburn defense shown here that will forever be known as the “Run in the Mud” for the 7-3 win.

Stabler went to the Raiders despite scouts’ doubts that a left-hander could be successful in the NFL due to the backward spin of the pass. He watched from the bench for a few years until the Steelers shut down starter Daryl Lamonica in the NFL playoffs. As in the final game against Auburn, it appeared the Steel Curtain had all of the Raiders offense shut down. So, Stabler simply took off from the 30-yard line with just over a minute left to to earn hero status with a touchdown scramble to make it 7-6.

Stabler’s heroics forced the Steelers to try a desperation pass that would have never been thrown. But it was. Unfortunately moments later Stabler could only watch from the sideline as Franco Harris caught the controversial “Immaculate Reception” to deny Stabler hero status on a play that is still immortalized with a statue in the Pittsburgh airport despite protests that the ball either hit the ground. The Steelers narrowly missed upsetting the undefeated Miami Dolphins the next week.

However, Stabler’s huge play propelled him in as a starter for Oakland, where he was able to go All-Pro in the ensuring years and finally get the Steelers back in 1976.

Stabler was MVP that year, and in the playoffs became the first left-handed quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl.

In a time when defenders knocking receivers around and linemen trying to block with their arms locked in held quarterback numbers down, Stabler became only the 10th quarterback in history to boast a passer rating of more than 100.

Rank Player (age) Rate Year Tm
1 Milt Plum (25) 110.4 1960 CLE
2 Otto Graham (26) 109.2 1947 CLE
3 Sid Luckman (27) 107.5 1943 CHI
4 Bart Starr (32) 105 1966 GNB
5 Roger Staubach (29) 104.8 1971 DAL
5 Y.A. Tittle (37) 104.8 1963 NYG
7 Ken Stabler (31) 103.4 1976 OAK
8 Frankie Albert (28) 102.9 1948 SFO
9 Bert Jones (25) 102.5 1976 BAL
10 Len Dawson (31) 101.7 1966 KAN

The Steelers were on the path to a record third straight Super Bowl and the led the Raiders 28-14 with the ball inside the Raiders 20 yard line with under six minutes to go.

All Stabler did was lead the Raiders to three touchdowns in less than three minutes to pull a stunning come-from-behind victory and the Raiders went onto win the Super Bowl and finally give Stabler the championship he deserved. This picture shows Stabler (right) after winning that Super Bowl, with Fred Biletnikoff, his receiver who showed he could catch any quarterback, lefty or righty, in the Raiders breakthrough five receiver offense.

The third legendary play that never would have happened without Stabler occurred when once again all hope of winning seemed lost. Stabler looked to scramble in the closing seconds while trailing the Chargers to pull out a win on his own legs like he did against Auburn and almost did against the Steelers. Unfortunately, a national audience watching the final game of the day started to turn their TVs off for the day as Stabler was pulled to the ground.

But wait! No one knew how to win like Stabler. Suddenly the ball was seen shooting ahead toward the goal line as time ran out. Two more Raiders lunged at the ball, propelling it forward toward the goal line until the Raiders fell on it for the game-winning touchdown.

The referees were always the villains in the eyes of Raiders fans, but in this case they conferred and decided the forward fumbles were unintentional and the touchdown would count. The other Raiders players seemed to concur that they just couldn’t get their hands on the ball. But not Stabler—he was completely honest and asserted that of course he had deliberately fumbled the ball ahead in what would then be called the “Immaculate Deception,” and the NFL had to change the rule for future games to prevent anyone matching Stabler’s ability to find a way to win no matter how hopeless the situation.

Stabler continued to broadcast Alabama football for years, and the entire Alabama and Raiders community, and all of football really, mourns his death.

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