In a different era, Stabler did things differently

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In 2015, the slightest glitch can set social media ablaze. Last week, for example, a premature (but ultimately accurate) report from the Tuscaloosa News on the passing of quarterback Ken Stabler created a major online ruckus after its retraction.

In the aftermath of Stabler’s passing, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle shared a story about Stabler’s first year in Houston — a story that went untold for 35 years in 1980 but that wouldn’t have gone untold for 35 minutes in 2015.

As noted on Friday, the Oilers traded for Stabler that year in an effort to final bust through the Black and Gold ceiling that had kept Houston out of the Super Bowl for two straight seasons. And Stabler led the Oilers to an 11-5 record and a berth in the playoffs.

McClain, via Peter King of, now has the rest of the story about one of the five losses.

“In November, the Oilers went to New York to play the Jets at Shea Stadium,” McClain wrote. “Stabler partied into the wee hours, blowing curfew and infuriating his coaches. Early Sunday morning, Stabler’s teammates saw him struggling to get out of a cab about the time they were preparing for the pregame meal. Hung over from his night on the town, Stabler was awful in the first half, throwing four interceptions — one returned for a touchdown — and the Oilers trailed 21-0 at halftime.

“In the dressing room at halftime, [coach Bum] Phillips was addressing his players, and some could hear Stabler throwing up in a bathroom area. Finally, Stabler emerged, sobered up and wiping his face with a towel. He told his teammates he was ready to go. Stabler threw four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, including one to Richard Caster to make it 28-28. The Oilers lost 31-28 in overtime, but there was another story for the Stabler legend.”

While it’s not quite apples-and-apples to flip the outcome of a November 23 game between the Oilers and a Jets team that otherwise went 3-12 and to assume the rest of Houston’s games would have finished the same way, changing that loss to a win would have made the Oilers 12-4 in 1980. Which would have given Houston the AFC Central title over the 11-5 Browns, who had won the division via a tiebreaker.  Which would have given Houston a bye to the divisional round. Which would have forced Cleveland, not Houston, to go to Oakland for the wild-card game in which Oakland beat Houston.

Which could have changed everything that year in the postseason.

Regardless, those dots weren’t connected in January 1981 because, in November 1980, no one from the Raiders spoke anonymously to any of the swarm of media now covering the league. Likewise, no one who saw Stabler partying into the wee hours the night before had the ability to take a photo of Stabler with a smartphone and instantly tweet it.

In hindsight, those added layers of accountability in today’s NFL prevent quarterbacks from showing up hungover and/or still drunk. Which, from the perspective of the teams that employ them, make the media and social media a useful tool for keeping players out of trouble.

37 responses to “In a different era, Stabler did things differently

  1. It was a different world back then, we got away with everything compared to the youth today.

  2. “and social media a useful tool for keeping players out of trouble.”

    Social media, a useful tool for anything? I find that to be a stretch.

  3. Stabler was hardly the only player who partied hard in his era. Hell, most of those guys had full-time jobs during the offseason to make ends meet, so to compare today’s athlete making millions to those of Stabler’s generation is laughable. The players in Stabler’s era were more like the average fan certainly on the financial side of things.

  4. If anyone has read his book “Snake” published back in the late 80’s / early 90’s, you would know that Kenny played quite a few games hungover / still drunk. While he was with the Raiders, he roomed with Matuzak, and it was quite the party.

  5. Plenty of players partied the night before games, but the smart ones made sure it didn’t effect their performance on the field the next day.

    Max McGee spent the entire night out before Super Bowl I, expecting to play little, if at all. However, he ended up getting the call due to an injury early in the game, and turned in a stellar performance.

    A man has to know his limitations. It’s a bummer stories like these are being put out now, when Stabler is no longer here to comment on them.

  6. Stabler shouldnt have waited till halftime to throw up, he wouldve had a better first half. The stick your finger in your mouth method is the best hangover cure, i keep telling people.

  7. saw some of nfl films on the nfln on friday, that was cool watching the old black hole and the raiders of 70s/80s when they feared nobody and literally tried to kill the quarterback and any receiver that dared catch a pass over the middle… you know, back when playing football actually used to mean something to these guys.

  8. Snake certainly wasn’t the first hard-drinking QB. There was also Bobby Layne before him. Like Layne, Stabler also won an NFL championship and unfortunately both died relatively young of cancer which was quite probably related to alcoholism.

    Layne is rightfully in the HOF, where Stabler should also be.

  9. Not sure every thing is much better in today’s world where a bunch of overpaid jock sniffers can track players every move and analyze it through the pc police….

  10. He was probably at Bachelor’s III drinking for free courtesy of Joe Namath, who wanted to ensure a Jets win.

  11. This is news? I guess it’s easy to forget that this was a way different era when guys like Namath, Max McGee, etc. drank and partied along with many many others the night before games. (see book by Frank Gifford about his time with the Giants as an example). There were accepted practices that later became socially and workwise unacceptable. Times change. At least most of those guys played for the love of the game and not for analytics and paychecks.

  12. Just couldn’t help patting yourself on the back there at the end could you? As if the media ever had an interest in keeping those guys out of trouble.

  13. Talk about a mans man. That’s my kinda guy

    If he was my teammate I would’ve punched him in the face for showing up drunk. There’s nothing cool about that.

  14. Even beyond the social media aspect, today we know a lot more about how some actions affect the human body. We know much more about smoking and drinking like a fish for years and years than we did 40-50 years ago. I think that prevents more Ken Stabler- or Joe Namath-types than worrying about what others are tweeting.

  15. I have seen it mentioned a few times already but Max McGee was drunk during Super Bowl I- since he didn’t expect to play he didn’t even bring his helmet out of the locker room. When Boyd Dowler got hurt a still drunk Max McGee had to play. He finished the game with seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

  16. The guy who wrote the players then were more like the fans in terms of income and had jobs in the off-season. BULL. The players made many times what the average fan made even then. An average player was making about $100K. The average fan? About $15K. Obviously there is a much bigger difference now but to imply the players were on the same income plane as the fans is nostalgic nonsense.

  17. It was mentioned earlier here that Stabler roomed with John Matuszak. Matuszak had a saying “vodka and valiums the breakfast of champions”. I was there for the Super Bowl when the Raiders played the Eagles in New Orleans. The QBs for that game were Jim Plunkett and Ron Jaworski.

    Well sometime between 3 and 5 am the morning of the Super Bowl. There were 10-15 of New Orleans finest (Police) trying to retrain Matuszak down on Bourbon Street. He was literally tearing the town up. They finally managed to take the 6’8 300+lb Tooz down and arrested him. The Raiders got him released sometime around 7am and he was on the field for the Raiders 27-10 victory that day.

  18. And of course, it was Jim Plunkett, a former top three draft pick in 1971 (by the Patriots) who got his chance after Dan Pastorini (drafted by the Oilers in ’71 and who was traded to the Raiders for Stabler in 1980) was injured to resurrect his career and make the most of it, winning the first of his two Super Bowl titles with the Raiders that year and afterwards wrote his autobiography (Plunkett would win his second title three years later after the Raiders moved to Los Angeles).

    A very interesting lesson in how different our society is today as opposed to 1980.

  19. It may be a fun story to most of you but as an Oilers fan back in those days who would have killed to see them in the Super Bowl, it makes me want to vomit even more than Snake did at halftime. The guy couldn’t resist getting smashed the day before a big game? As pointed out, if they had won that one, it very well could have paved the way for Earl Campbell and the Luv Ya Blue guys to get a Super Bowl ring. Ugh.

  20. Kenny Stabler would have spent half his career on the Commissioners Exempt list… if he even would have been allowed into the league at all. (Actually you can say that about a lot of the guys who played for the Raiders as well as other teams during that era.) It was truly a different time back then.

  21. It was a TOUGHER world back then. The snake needed something to deal with the hits back then. Today’s game is starting to become like flag football in a few years if Goodell don’t get FIRED soon we’ll be watching the Flag National Football League!!!

  22. I’m thankful social media didn’t exist when I was in college and also up to my mid 20s. The dot com era started to take off in my late 20s but we created blogs showing the drunken fests and laughed about it. Sheesh I did some dumb stuff.

  23. I guess it’s only allowed to party hard if you are a darling of the east coast press. Heck – you can even party hard AND do absolutely nothing in a Super Bowl (not even throw a single pass in the fourth quarter) and still be named MVP.

  24. And Stabler was NOT the ONLY player who partied into the night on game days. That was more likely the situation and not the exception. Men were men in those days.

    I almost think Ginger Rogers Griffin with the Redskins would play better drunk. At least he’d have an excuse for the half of the game he always takes off in his illustrious 12 win, 21 loss professional career in games he managed to start and finish.

  25. In 1980 the PC moral behavior standard for athletes wasn’t quite the same. This was when the Raiders were contenders and were celebrated for partying like outlaws – just win baby! Also, back then mainstream media journalists covered actual news and weren’t just talking tabloid gossip.

    I think we all drank until we puked in 1980. Look at what music won Grammys back then. If you had to listen to Captain and Tenille, you would have drank until you puked.

  26. next thing you know Phil Simms will be saying he was offered a head coaching job…..can people just RIP…

  27. Speaking of Raider quarterbacks, why is it Carr is considered to have had an awesome rookie season?????? He took his team to a 3-12 record and his numbers sucked! What am I missing? Glad he isnt on my team.

  28. And Stabler was NOT the ONLY player who partied into the night on game days. That was more likely the situation and not the exception. Men were men in those days.

    So to be a real man you have to be drunk all the time? I am so glad I am not you!

  29. chadsmith013 says:
    Jul 13, 2015 10:35 AM

    he was no Jake “The Snake” Roberts..thats for sure.

    Aurelian Smith Junior

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