Ode To “Kenny The Snake”

Ken Stabler
July10/ 2015

An ABSOLUTE MUST-READ “Ode To Kenny The Snake”.  As fine a piece of colorful sports writing as we’re likely to encounter today or most days.   If you DO NOT enjoy this 30+ year-old reprinted piece from Sports Illustrated…. the problem is YOU.    🙂

“Why, If’n Kenny turnedt sideways, he weren’t no thicker than an airmail letter….”

I’m not sure Gissele Bunckin OR The Manning Family could hang-out with “The Snake”.   If you miss the good ol’ days and good ol’ boys like “Snake” and “Broadway Joe” and Bradshaw, please raise your hand.


SI Vault: Gettin’ nowhere fast with the laid-back Raiders QB Kenny Stabler

SI Vault: Gettin' nowhere fast with the laid-back Raiders QB Kenny StablerPhoto: Neil Leifer/SI

What counts, says Oakland Quarterback Kenny Stabler, is the getting there. Back home in Alabama, “there” is the Pink Pony, where Stabler sips Scotch with Wickedly Wonderful Wanda, or the Shelter Cove Marina, for a game of 8-ball, or the Intracoastal Waterway, over which he roars in his Boogie.

Photo: Neil Leifer/SI

The black Chevy Silverado pickup burbles down main street. Past the sun-faded feed and grain store, where less elegant trucks stand scarred and dusty while their owners dip snoose in the shade, comparing notes on drought damage. Past the sporting-goods store with its display of heavy handguns and shiny fishing lures. Past the church, the high school and the obligatory but somehow anachronistic shopping center, where young housewives in curlers and short shorts stride purposefully through the heat with a baby on one hip and a bag of groceries on the other. The driver of the Silverado studies the scene closely. As if feeling his eyes on them, some of the townsfolk turn and stare at the truck. After a moment, their faces inevitably break into wide country grins.”Hey there, Kenny!”

“Hoo boy, Snake!”

The driver acknowledges them with a wave of his free hand. Actually the hand is not fully free. The big knuckles bulge around a beaded can of beer, second of the morning though it is scarcely 9 a.m. “This is home,” says Kenny Stabler. “I’ll die here.”

The flat tone of the statement, issuing as it does from a face masked by a grizzled brown beard and mirrored sunglasses, raises questions. Does the premier quarterback of the NFL, the 1976 Most Valuable Player, the star of Super Bowl XI, whose deft passes and clever calls eviscerated the Minnesota Vikings, mean that he’s outgrown his hometown? That the rustic pleasures of Foley, Ala. (pop. 4,000)—farming corn and soybeans; hunting doves, quail, woodcock, snipe and ducks in the nearby fields and sloughs; fishing bream and bass and speckled sea trout; eating boiled shrimp and fried oysters and smoked mullet; drinking more beer a day than any four Milwaukeeans; boogieing late into the night in roadhouses; racing boats and trucks, and anything else that moves, with other good old boys—is beginning to pall? That he would die of boredom if he had to live here year-round?

Not a bit of it.

“I love the place,” says Stabler, gunning the motor as he hits the edge of town. “It’s got everything I’ll ever need. Come on, let’s get some beer and go for a boat ride.”

The week shot by like a long wet blur. Through it ran the sounds of Stablerian pleasure: the steady gurgle of upturned beer bottles, the clack and thunk of pool balls, the snarl of outboard motors, the whiny cadences of country music. At the end of it, anyone following in Stabler’s wake would be ready for a body transplant: liver and lights, heart and kidneys, eardrums—maybe even a few new teeth.

Since it is virtually impossible to catch Stabler at rest, any portrait of him must convey his nonstop motion. To that extent he epitomizes his nickname: “Snake.” Try to get, say, a blue racer in repose for an interview. All you’ll come away with is an impression of flickering tongue and a sapphirine slithering through the weeds.

It began in Memphis, where Stabler was expected to perform in the pro-am of the Danny Thomas-Memphis Classic. Stabler was waiting at the airport. He was, of course, in the bar. He had been there since noon. It was now close to 5 p.m. Surrounded by reeling pals, beautiful girls and an array of empty or partially drained glassware—beer bottles, Bloody Marys, Salty Dogs, Seven and Sevens—he grinned at a newcomer. “You’re late,” he exulted. “Thank God. Here”—he unwrapped his thick left arm from a petite blonde, who emerged like a bauble from the shadow of his armpit—”meet Wanda.” She smiled demurely, then stuck out her tongue.

The next morning a caravan of Continental Mark Vs wound erratically through southeastern Memphis. “Where the hayull is the golf course?” snarled a Southern voice. “Danged if Ah know,” answered another. “Turn on the goldurned ayer conditioner,” gasped a third. “It’s runnin’ full blast, you knucklehead!” was the response.

“Wayull, shore,” continued Bear Bryant, as if he hadn’t been interrupted. “Ah remember that boy. He looked like a good ‘un but he always left his football game in some parked car the night before we played. Ah remember that Auburn game in….” Bryant, Stabler’s coach during his college All-America days at Alabama, was paired with Stabler for the pro-am. His deep, hoarse, mellifluous voice, eroded by hard living and the football wars of a quarter of a century, filled the car with meaningless magic, reminiscence. It was the only alleviant to the nightmare of the ride. Stabler giggled like a schoolboy at the great man’s mots.

Later, under a scorching sun, Stabler quit short of nine holes. A tremendous roar had gone up moments before his retirement from the golf match. Ex-President Gerald Ford had just shot a hole in one. Playing behind him, Stabler stopped. His own shots were snaking into the rough. He pleaded “migraine.”

“Hayull,” grumped Bear in mock chagrin as Kenny was departing for the clubhouse, “Ah was gonna pull that one myself but you beat me to it.”

The ride back to the motel is a montage of hysterical blasphemies and hollow pauses while people catch their wind. One of the passengers, a fat man named “Philadelphia Phil,” pours sweat and outrageous jokes in equal profusion. During one of the lulls, Stabler turns and eyes his entourage. “Let’s blow this pop stand,” he says. “We’ll clear out of here tonight and head back home. We’ve had three days in Las Vegas and now this. Too much. I want to just lay back and maybe drive my boat some. I’m one of your clean-living NFL quarterbacks and I need to replenish my physical resources.”

“Sure you are,” says Henry Pitts, Stabler’s lawyer and good buddy from Selma, Ala. “Sure you do. I’ll have you out of here and home by midnight. But meanwhile let’s stop and grab us a six-pack.”

Shortly after midnight, emerging from the airport at Pensacola, Fla. on his way home, Stabler is haled to the curb by a traffic cop. He’s just made a left turn, the cop informs him, on a red light. Stabler produces his license with decorum—no protest, no mention of who he is or what he’d done to become it. The cop writes him up. “Now take care, heah?” the cop says, unsmiling.

“Shore,” says Kenny. Then he smiles into the dark. “Win a few, lose a few.”

Stabler is eating a fried-oyster sandwich in the Pink Pony Pub. A pitcher of draft beer sweats on the table before him. Both sandwich and beer are disappearing at a remarkable rate. He is clad in a red T shirt with a silvery cobra silk-screened on the chest, its hood opening and closing to his swallows, white shorts and a pair of battered flip-flops. This is the uniform of the day when he’s at home. The Pink Pony Pub dominates the beachfront of Gulf Shores, Ala., a resort-cum-fishing community south of Foley. A rickety string-pier extends into the Gulf of Mexico. Milky blue water laps the dunes of the offshore islands between Mobile Bay and Pensacola. Girls in bikinis bake on the beach, turning slowly, voluptuously. Stabler never misses a move.

Photo: James Drake/SI

Twice divorced and now living just up the coast from Gulf Shores with the blonde girl named Wanda—”Wickedly Wonderful Wanda,” as she styles herself, but more prosaically, Wanda Blalock, age 23, from Robertsdale—he eschews the married state or any demanding facsimile thereof. He likes to watch girls. But now his anatomical studies are interrupted by a lean, middle-aged man who plunks himself down at the table to chat. Denzil Hollis was Stabler’s baseball, basketball, track and football coach in junior high. “That was when I gave him the nickname ‘Snake,’ ” says Denzil. “Back in the eighth or ninth grade. He’d run 200 yards to score from 20 yards out.” He slaps Stabler’s thick gut. “Skinny as a snake too, back then. Straight up from top to bottom, and when he turned sideways, he weren’t no thicker than a airmail letter.”

Even in 1968, when Stabler first appeared on the Oakland Raiders‘ roster, he was snake-slim—6’3″ by 185 pounds. Now he weighs 215. “I’ve been working with weights,” he says. “You can’t play quarterback in the league at anything under 200 these days. The stronger you are, the more muscle you got around those joints, the less likely you are to get hurt.”

In high school, Stabler actually achieved greater renown as a baseball player than for his football skills. He was a smoking southpaw pitcher who, with a mediocre squad, won nine games in his senior year, racking up 125 strikeouts and five shutouts on speed alone. The only loss that Don Sutton of Clio, Ala. ever suffered in high school was a 1-0 game to Stabler and Foley, with Stabler striking out 16 and Sutton 14. “When I was 17,” Stabler says, flatly, not boasting, “the Pittsburgh Pirates offered me $50,000 to sign. But by then I’d gotten to like football. And I wanted to play for Coach Bryant. If it hadn’t been for sports, I wouldn’t have gone to college. My dad was a mechanic in a garage up to Foley, and I’d have followed him, I’m sure. I went to college to play football, not for education. That may have been wrong, but that’s the way it was. I always wanted to play pro ball, and I’ve done it.” He finished up the pitcher of beer. “Come on, let’s get out on the water.”

En route to the Bear Point Marina, where Stabler moors his V-hulled, 150-hp outboard racing boat, Boogie, he pulls to a stop beside a dank, reed-grown tarn. A chain-link fence surrounds the pond, and a neatly lettered white-sign proclaims CHARLIE.

“Charlie’s a 12-foot alligator, something of a local celebrity,” says Stabler. “We’ll see if he’s home.” He rattles the fence and hoots a few times, but the big ‘gator doesn’t appear. “Maybe he’s taken a stroll into town for a Big Mac,” says Stabler. All that moves in the black water is a soft-shelled turtle the size of a manhole cover. As Stabler is about to climb back into the truck, a police cruiser brakes to a stop behind him. Out jumps Chief James E. Maples of the Gulf Shores heat—the headquarters is located just beside the ‘gator pond. Maples, stout and bouncy, insists on showing Stabler his latest set of pictures.

Inside the office, he produces a sheaf of Polaroids depicting Maples in a soldier suit, armed with an M-16 and various other weaponry, standing before what appear to be blazing bales of hay. “We got 17 tons of grass off that cabin cruiser yesterday,” he says. “Buncha damn hippies runnin’ it up from Mesko, I do believe. Hayull, I stood right in the middle of it when it was burnin’ and didn’t feel a thang.” As he flashes the photos like a new parent with baby pictures, one wonders what got him so high.

“Shucks, the Chief jest gets high on work,” says Stabler as he drives away. “He’s a dedicated man, Chief Maples is.” There’s a wry twinkle in the blue eyes, crows’ feet at the corners of the broad, bearded face.

The Intracoastal Waterway, rimming the Gulf from Texas clear around to the Florida Keys, affords Stabler and his boating buddies with an all-weather playground. Even when gales are blowing outside the barrier islands that protect the Waterway from the Gulf, the seas inside are flat enough to run wide open at 70 mph. It’s hazardous sport, what with mile-long strings of barges being threaded by their tugs through the serpentine, buoy-marked channels, but Stabler loves nothing better than jumping the wakes of the barges or running flat out beside them and making commerce look like it’s standing still. He’s doing it right now.

“Here he comes.” says Bobby Holk, a young, pale-haired engineering grad from Auburn and—despite the rivalry between his school and Stabler’s alma mater—a good boating buddy. “Roger’s gonna whip him, though, you watch.” The two racing boats appear from behind a barge train, Stabler in the lead and Roger Tyndal coming up fast behind him. Roger is a farmer—corn, mainly—but with the spring drought working havoc in the Deep South he has little to do. His corn tassled out at knee height. No ears. Hardly worth saving for silage. So Tyndal might as well spend the day racing.

The boats close rapidly, hulls angled up clear of the water, screws lashing the channel. The sound comes on like a swarm of giant killer bees. Just as Holk had predicted, Tyndal’s boat—with an added 50 hp—snaps Stabler’s up as soon as they reach flat water beyond the barge wake. Stabler shakes a fist in mock frustration, then the two leap one another’s wakes as they head for the next marina.

“That’s how we do it,” Stabler says after he ties up at the Shelter Cove Marina. “We race around on the Waterway, and stop at all the marinas. There’s about 10 or 12 of ’em between where I live and the end of the line, down there below Gulf Shores. Good way to travel, gettin’ nowhere fast.”

Photo: James Drake/SI

The marina is equipped in the uniform fashion of the region: air conditioner, bar, pool table, juke box. The bare essentials, in precisely that order. Tyndal and Holk order a bottle of Tickled Pink flavored wine while Stabler feeds the juke box and racks the balls. As Waylon Jennings extols the virtues of “Luckenbach, Texas,” Stabler proceeds to whip his buddies in a game of 8-ball. He wins a free beer, of course, and thus must play them another game so they can get revenge. Before they chalk the cues for the last time, Stabler and his partner (a middling player at best) have won all five games. Stabler picks up a tab from a beer can on the way out and slips it over his finger. “Looky here, Bobby,” he says to Holk. “This is a Auburn class ring. See, it’s got a built-in nose picker.”

Stabler is now dining at a Gulf Shores squat-‘n’-gobble, Wanda at his side, before him his third Scotch of the meal and a heaping plate of scampi in garlic sauce. “Scotch and scampi,” he crows between chomps, “I love ’em. Johnnie Walker Red. Namath drinks it. Sonny Jurgensen is a Scotch drinker, too. Maybe all the great quarterbacks drink Scotch. And I love seafood, particularly these babies.” (Munch, crunch, gulp.) “I told Pete Banaszak last season, just after we beat Pittsburgh in the opening game, that I’d eat scampi for 14 weeks in a row if it would guarantee us winning all our games.” Like Proust’s madeleine, the jumbo shrimp provoke a remembrance of the season past.

“They were all tough games—that’s true in any season—but the only one that was really bad was the Patriots. And that’s the only one we lost. New England kicked our butts good and proper, 48-17. I guess we should have been wary when we went up against them again in the first playoff game. But I wasn’t. That was stupid. They damn near ended our playoff bid right there. In fact, at the start of the fourth quarter, with them leading 21-10, I got to thinking that maybe they had us, maybe all that work earlier in the year was going down the tube. But then we put one on the board and it was 21-17. That’s when the controversial stuff started.

“They got down to our 32 and then, thank God, missed that field goal. When we got the ball back, I told the guys that this was it, this might be the last time we’d have the ball until next season. I figured we had to throw on every down to do it, and I hit four out of five. That put us in good shape on their 18. But then one of their tackles—I think it was Mel Lunsford—nailed me good for a nine-yard loss, and I missed the next pass. So there we were, third and 18, and we could only win on a touchdown. And only a minute to go.

“I called a sideline pass to Carl Garrett, but they had him covered like gang-busters. I threw anyway. Just as I cut loose, Ray Hamilton smacked me across the chops with his forearm. He’d been going for the ball, but I’d got it past him and he hit me with the momentum. They called roughing the passer. Salvation! We had a first down on their 13. I hit Dave Casper for five and Clarence Davis picked up four more on a run. Then Banaszak got a yard. It was going to be a close measurement, but one of the Pats started yelling at the officials and they called unsportsmanlike conduct. We had first and goal from the one.

“Banaszak tried to poke it in but they stopped him. Fourteen seconds left. I called an option play that we’d worked on Cincinnati—a roll-out to the left. I either throw to Casper or run. Gene Upshaw was in front of me, and he flattened the only guy in my way, and there we were—24-21.”

The waiter brings another plate of scampi, another drink.

“Then we give Pittsburgh a whuppin’—24-7. That felt good. Don’t let no one tell you that the Pittsburgh-Oakland rivalry is a press hype. We hate them; they hate us. Beating them that bad in the playoffs was sweet indeed. People who’d been saying we couldn’t win the big ones had to eat crow. And Pittsburgh couldn’t say we’d been lucky—the way they were in ’72 when Franco picked up that ricochet and won in the final seconds. No, we flat blew them away.”

Wanda, bored, utters a pussycat yawn. Stabler chucks her under the chin.

“After the game was over, for the first time I felt real happy for myself. I remember thinking that there are only about six quarterbacks who have ever won the Super Bowl, and now I’m one of them. A great feeling, a great release, an ego balloon. Freddie was crying and Coach Madden was all red and grinning and guys were hugging each other like a bunch of fruits and pouring champagne over each other and then I suddenly had this tremendous urge for a great big plate of scampi and a bottle of Johnnie Red.”

On Friday night, the mayor of Foley is hosting a barbecue in Stabler’s honor—a build-up of sorts for the big festivities of the night to follow. On Saturday, Stabler will submit to a “roast” in the civic auditorium. There, for $12.50 a plate, the local citizenry can watch their favorite son get insulted, maligned, slandered, humiliated and otherwise dumped upon by a panel of experts. The roast is for a good cause, though: a new field house for the Foley Lions high school teams. Anyone with the scratch can attend the roast, but the mayor’s barbecue is by invitation only. The mayor of Foley is Arthur Holk, a sprightly slat of a man, an inveterate fisherman and boatman who owns much of the prime real estate in adjacent Gulf Shores. Mayor Holk is the cousin of Bobby Holk, Stabler’s boating and 8-ball buddy.

Photo: James Drake/SI

The guests circulate under Japanese lanterns and electric bug-zappers on the spacious grounds of the mayor’s house, wreathed in the smoke from sizzling steaks, munching freshly boiled jumbo shrimp and corn on the cob. It’s an odd contrast in groups: on the one hand, the Foley upper crust, matronly, Rotarian, with cash-register eyeballs; on the other, the Stabler gang, raffish, sunburnt, hard of hand and piratical of glance. Two new arrivals add another element to the scene. Pete Banaszak and Tony Cline, a defensive end who played six seasons with the Raiders before being traded across the Bay to San Francisco, have showed up for the roast, and they plan to accompany Stabler to his Week-long football camp near Selma. Banaszak and Cline are clearly on their best behavior. They’ve been in the air most of the day, flying in from the Coast, and are much the worse for wear. “We started drinking before we got on the plane,” laments Cline, “and then we had to wait two hours in the Pensacola airport before Kenny remembered to send someone to pick us up. Where’s that steak?”

Stabler, too, is the model of decorum. Freshly showered and deodorized, wearing crisply pressed slacks and a shiny open-necked shirt of many colors, he “Ma’ams” the ladies and “Sirs” the gents with the utmost deference. His voice is mild, an octave or so higher than when he’s shooting pool. The smile is tentative, almost shy. But the bad-boy twinkle, though a bit disguised, still lights his eyes whenever he gets off a double entendre at the expense of the stuffed shirts. Wickedly Wonderful Wanda clings to his arm with dutiful, downcast eyes. Every now and then she looks up and winks knowingly behind his back at one or another of the Stabler entourage.

Stabler’s house, just over the Alabama line at the tail end of the Florida Panhandle, and half an hour’s drive from Foley or Gulf Shores, was stripped to the bare minimum of furnishings by his most recent divorce. A painting of a tiger glares from the wall of the empty dining room. A lone couch adorns the living room. The refrigerator is stocked mainly with beer and white wine (the latter for the Wickedly Wonderful one). In the den, things are a bit homier. Team photographs depict him as a Foley Lion, a ‘Bama Crimson Tidester and a young, beardless Oakland Raider. In all of them, he is wearing his “barbecue face,” and, thinking back, one realizes that all the photos of Stabler except the candids show him as shy and self-effacing. They do not capture the driven playfulness of the man.

The garage and the yard, though, tell a different story, in the garage are fishing rods, tackle boxes laden with lures, leaders and hooks; a bench rest for the barbells with which he works out three days a week; a Honda MR-250 Elsinore dirt bike; a glossily flaked dune buggy; his four-wheel-drive pickup truck. Out on the Bermuda-grass lawn, resting in its cradled trailer, the Boogie looks like it’s still moving at 70 mph. And down at the Bear Point Marina, not yet ready for the water, is his latest acquisition: a tunnel-hulled racing boat that should leave the V-hulled Boogie gasping in its wake—and Roger Tyndal’s boat as well. “I picked up the tunnel-hull cheap from a boy over near Mobile,” Stabler says, his voice firing with eagerness. “I’m going to fix her up—needs a little glass work here and there—and paint her real nifty, and then hang a big Merc on her. I reckon she’ll go 80 plus.”

If a man can be assessed by his possessions, and particularly his attitude toward them, then Ken Stabler is a man in motion. Furious, violent motion. Exultant motion.

“Gettin’ nowhere fast,” he says. “I like it. As philosophies go, it’s as good as any. What counts isn’t so much where you’re going—I mean, we all end up in the same place—but what counts is the getting there. Kind of simple-minded, maybe, but it’s fun.”

You hear, the roadhouse before you see it—the amplified four-four beat of country music pounding like surf through the woods, silencing the bullfrogs, setting the beards of Spanish moss dancing on the trees that fringe the two-lane blacktop. The parking lot is jammed with pickups, most of them costly 4-WDs with customized paint jobs. Men reel and glare and slosh beer on themselves as they stagger around the veranda—skinny, sunburnt men in Levi’s and workshirts, with scuffed cowboy boots and baseball caps cocked back on their foreheads to reveal the badge of the farmer: that blanched expanse of skin where the cap has shaded the face, babyhood pallor above the sun-blackened snoose-bulging jaws. Half shot with drink, they wear the faces of Confederate dead in Mathew Brady photographs.

Stabler and Wanda disappear into the musical melee. A pair of Stabler’s friends, J. B. and Glen Campbell (distantly related to the singer, says Glen), belly up to the bar. They are joined by Henry Pitts, Stabler’s attorney, who flew in from Selma for the barbecue and roast, and Henry’s wife Sister. Pitts is the paragon of Southern hospitality, a witty, well-read man in his late 30s who, from his small country-lawyer office in the heart of the Cotton Belt, handles all the arrangements for Stabler’s travel, endorsements and guest appearances—no easy task with a subject as whimsically peripatetic as Stabler. It’s always amusing to watch Pitts introducing his wife to a stranger: “This is mah wife, Sistah.” “Your wife’s sister?” “No, mah wife—Sistah!” (“It always draws a double take when we check into a motel,” he says.) Her real name is Mary Rose.

Photo: Heinz Kluetmeier/SI

Foley’s Kenny Stabler roast is well attended. The spacious new civic auditorium is nearly full in anticipation of seeing the local hero who has made it nationwide get his verbal comeuppance. Mayor Holk and Dr. John E. Foster, the master of ceremonies and long-time physician to Foley’s athletic teams, are everywhere, planting suggestions for sharp jibes with the forgathered roasters. The most interesting contrast of the evening is between Stabler and Scott Hunter, the Atlanta Falcons‘ quarterback and Stabler’s successor at ‘Bama who has journeyed down to Foley to deliver the invocation. Stabler is massive, bearded, almost bearlike in his heavy-shouldered carriage; Hunter, active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, is dapper, clean-shaven, very sincere. He could be the president of the Jaycees. Stabler could be a fugitive from a chain gang.

Seated in a high-backed, throne-like chair in front of the stage, Stabler takes the roasters’ best shots, wincing with mock outrage at the repeated references to his dubious intellectuality, his unconventional training habits (“Eight beers and two hours’ sleep a night,” says Banaszak, “that’s the way to stardom as an NFL quarterback”), his penchant for monogamy (“He’s a one-woman man—one woman a night”).

“The other day,” says Tony Cline, “my son asked me, ‘Daddy, when are they going to roast you ‘When I get overweight and overpaid,’ I told him.”

Terry Henley, a former Auburn football player, embroiders on the theme of Stabler’s womanizing. “Up at ‘Bama, Kenny had a girl friend who was so ugly that when she went to the school psychiatrist he made her lie face down on the couch. Why, she was so ugly that Kenny couldn’t bring himself to take her out to dinner. Instead he’d put her in a corner and feed her with a slingshot.”

The digs are harsh, hard, biting close to the marrow. The fans love it. Stabler gives as good as he gets. When all the roasters have had their say, he delivers a brief rebuttal. His voice is once again his public voice, shading to the higher registers, tentative, almost boyish. But in a few words he rips everyone who savaged him, and then some. The good people of Baldwin County, Ala. leave the hall sated with rubber chicken and ribaldry.

“Good folks,” Stabler says later, driving back toward Gulf Shores. “Yeah, I’ll die here. I really haven’t given much thought to what I’m going to do when I’m done with football. Something competitive, though. It has to be something with a hard challenge to it. Maybe racing boats, or racing cars. I really get off on high speed, keeping to the edge of control. If I was to coach, as a lot of people have suggested, I wouldn’t want to coach anything above the high school level. Not college football and certainly not the pros. But my life-style is too rough—too much booze and babes and cigarettes—to be a high school coach. I’d hardly be a shining example to the young athletes of the future. The quarterbacks I admire most are Bobby Layne and Billy Kilmer—tough, hard-living guys who don’t know how to quit. We’ve got a lot of that spirit on the Raiders. For the past five or six years we’ve been the best team, overall, in the game, and yet, until last season, we never quite made it all the way. But we kept on a-truckin’, never quitting, never doubting our ability to do it. Al Davis is tough and it rubs off on the rest of us, all the way down the line.

“But Al can be generous, too. Look at this Super Bowl ring—it’s got to be the most expensive one any owner has ever given to his team.” The crest of the ring glints in the humid darkness—16 small diamonds, one for each of the Raiders’ 1976 victories, encircling a large stone that represents the Super Bowl triumph. “The only thing that’s missing is a little chip of coal on the bottom of the ring, to represent the shellacking New England gave us early in the season.”

Stabler cruises down the main drag of Gulf Shores. A light surf is sloshing in off the Gulf, lit by a fat, white moon. From the Pink Pony Pub come the sounds of revelry—war. whoops and rebel yells, the clink of beer pitchers and the whine of the juke box. Kenny Rogers’ voice grates through the cooling, wet air, bitter with salt. “You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille, with four hungry children and crops in the field….”

“Sure hope it rains,” says Stabler. “The farmers are losing their shirts. Anyway,” getting back to his point of departure, “I’ll never end up in coaching. Maybe I’ll open up a honky-tonk here in Gulf Shores. Or maybe a little marina with a pool table and a juke box and tanks full of live bait. Honky-tonks and marinas—that’s where I spend most of the good time anyway. But whatever it is, I’ll die here.” He turns the truck toward the sound of the music. “Hell, I’m falling behind in my clean-living campaign. Let’s grab us a beer.”



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