Quarterback Ken Stabler, who played for Oakland throughout the 1970s and led the Raiders to victory in Super Bowl XI, passed away Wednesday from complications resulting from Stage 4 colon cancer. He was 69.
“It seems like each month we’re getting news about one of the guys I played with passing away,” former Raiders safety George Atkinson told Damon Amendolara, who was filling in as host of CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “It’s just far too many.”
Atkinson and Stabler were both drafted by the Raiders in 1968 and played most of their careers together.
“Practicing against him was definitely a challenge,” Atkinson said. “Our practices were such that we went at each other. We really went at each other. We didn’t pull punches in practice. If you practice well, you play well. Our games became very, very easy because of our practices – and playing against him in practice and practicing against him was definitely a challenge because he kept you off-base. He approached practices just like he did games. He’d call his own plays. So he had a chance to set the defense up in practice like he would in a game. So we were always challenged playing against Kenny in practice. That’s a supreme competitor.”
Stabler, who was recruited by Bear Bryant at Alabama, led the NFL in touchdown passes in 1974 and 1976 and had a knack for winning games in the fourth quarter.
“That’s what our thing was on defense: to get him the ball, get the ball in his hands – because something was going to happen,” Atkinson said. “If you recollect, we won a number of games in the fourth quarter, and that was due to his ability to set defenses up for plays that he could use later on in the fourth quarter. By the time he (set a defense up), they were confused. Kenny was a master at that. Like I said, during that time, he called his own plays and he ran the ship. He was the captain, and he did quite a job as far as mixing the run with the pass and knowing when to throw it and when to run it. He just had a knack for play-calling and execution. The guy was superb at execution. He knew the game.”
He also knew the ladies. Yes, Stabler loved to have fun. Then again, so did all of his Raiders teammates, especially in the 1970s.
“Oh man, hey, everybody likes to have fun,” Atkinson said. “Kenny just was open with it. Who doesn’t like to have fun? You have a hard week of work and definitely you want to reward yourself – and that’s what Kenny did. He rewarded himself. He was very, very selfish about rewarding himself.”
Atkinson busted into a hearty laughter. Then he shared something probably few people knew: He and Stabler drove across the country together a number of times. Stabler lived in Alabama, while Atkinson lived in Savannah, Georgia.
“We had a ball – some of it I can’t tell you about,” Atkinson said, laughing. “But we had a bunch of fun. The memories I have of him and with him will always be with me. Good guy, man. I’ll miss him, but I have the memories – and that’s what’s important.”