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 TheMMQB.com, 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.