I have a handful of indelible sports memories from my youth. One of the most vivid lingering images came the day the Oakland Raiders ended the Miami dynasty.
With Don Shula’s Dolphins making a run at a third straight Super Bowl win and leading the Raiders in Oakland by five points with less than a minute to play, Stabler took the snap at the Miami eight, dropped back, faded to the right, encountered pressure, scrambled to the left, was hit low from behind, and lobbed the ball while falling.
Running back Clarence Davis emerged from the so-called “Sea of Hands” (mostly belonging to Dolphins defenders) to snag the ball and end Miami’s march to a fourth straight Super Bowl appearance.
The Raiders would lose at home the following week to the Steelers in the AFC title game, finally finishing the job two years later. But nothing in Oakland’s run to Super Bowl XI compared to the throw from Stabler that brought down the Dolphins.
“If I had one drive to win a game to this day, and I had a quarterback to pick, I would pick Kenny,” Hall of Fame coach John Madden said in a statement issued Thursday night by the Raiders. “Snake was a lot cooler than I was. He was a perfect quarterback and a perfect Raider. When you think about the Raiders you think about Ken Stabler.”
And when I think about Ken Stabler, I think about the Sea of Hands.