Alabama football in the 1960s was spearheaded by two quarterbacks, Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler. The former became the nation’s first true celebrity, and would later be called the greatest athlete that head coach Paul Bryant ever worked with. The latter was a scrapper.
He was a member of two national title teams, and would later play under head coach John Madden. Alabama won its second national championship under Bryant in 1964, however, Stabler wasn’t allowed to play as a freshman due to the National Collegiate Athletic Association regulations at the time. He observed his teammate, Joe Namath, navigate the Crimson Tide to a Southeastern Conference championship and a national title via the Associated Press and Coaches’ Polls.
Namath’s departure to the American Football League in 1965 opened the door for a new starting quarterback, but it wasn’t Stabler. He saw action as a sophomore, but it came in a backup role behind Steve Sloan. His statistics were lackluster as a passer, but Stabler’s scrambling abilities made him a nightmare for defenses. He accounted for 328 yards with a touchdown on 61 attempts. Alabama won its third SEC title, and faced No.3-ranked Nebraska in the 1966 Orange Bowl. The Crimson Tide won 39-28, securing a third national championship.
Stabler would finally have an opportunity to call the shots, as the 1966 season rolled in. In his junior year, he threw for 956 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions on a 64.9 percent completion rating. Stabler totaled 397 rushing yards with three touchdowns.
Alabama finished the 1966 regular season undefeated in conference play, yet it shared an SEC championship with the Georgia Bulldogs as Co-Champions.The Crimson Tide defeated No.6-ranked Nebraska 34-7 in the 1967 Sugar Bowl. Stabler was voted team captain as a senior in 1967. The team had high hopes of winning another national championship, but it didn’t come into fruition. Alabama finished the season at 8-2-1, but Stabler’s play against Auburn remains a legendary tale. 71,200 fans were at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., watching an Iron Bowl that was played in horrible weather conditions. The field was soaked and muddy, but it didn’t stop Stabler from scrambling for a 53-yard, game-winning touchdown.
Alabama defeated Auburn 7-3, and Stabler’s “Run in the Mud” stands iconic in the program’s history book. He ended his career with 2,196 passing yards and 27 total touchdowns. Stabler compiled a 28-3-2 record as a starter. He saw action in four bowl games at Alabama.
The silver and black came calling for Stabler in 1968, as the Raiders selected him in the second round (52nd pick) of the NFL Draft. He played for 15 seasons (1970-84), logging spots in Oakland, Houston and New Orleans. Knee injuries diminished his scrambling abilities, but Stabler developed into a solid pocket passer. He threw for 27,938 yards, and was named to the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team. Stabler was a four-time Pro Bowl selection (1973-74, 1976-77). He was the NFL’s most valuable player in 1974, and was recognized as the league’s Offensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press in the same season. Oakland’s 1976 squad gave head coach John Madden what he desired, a Super Bowl ring.
Stabler tossed for 2,737 yards with 27 touchdowns in 1976. The Raiders posted a 13-1 record, capturing an AFC Conference crown. Oakland faced the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI (11) on Jan. 9, 1977. The matchup pinned Stabler against fellow NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton. Stabler connected on 12 of 19 passes for 180 yards with a touchdown.
Oakland defeated Minnesota 32-14, to win its first Super Bowl title in franchise history. Stabler saw action in seven playoff games, and won six AFC West Division titles in 10 seasons with the Oakland Raiders (1970-79). He worked as a color commentator, after he retired. Stabler was a part of CBS’s NFL telecast, until he found work with Eli Gold on radio for Alabama football games. Stabler left before Alabama’s 2008 season and was replaced by Tom Roberts.
He serves a chairman of the XOXO Stabler Foundation, and has become a fixture in pop culture. He made a cameo appearance on Married…With Children, and partnered with Mascot Books to release his first kid’s book, Roll Tide in September 2006.
Stephen M. Smith is a staff writer and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine, Pick Six Previews and SB Nation. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.