Ken Stabler went on to lead the Raiders to their first Super Bowl win.

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Back in the 1970s, swashbuckling quarterback Kenny “The Snake” Stabler once said the reason he fit in so perfectly with his hell-raising Oakland Raiders teams was he liked to study his game plans by the light of a honky-tonk jukebox. As Raiders coach John Madden remembered Friday, “He always had a twinkle in his eye, and a smile. .

In 1978’s Great Quarterbacks of Pro Football, Revised Edition, by Steve Gelman and Rita Golden Gelman, the Gelmans described how Stabler got his nickname, Snake. He discussed how discouraged he was before he got his chance. His anecdotes in this book cemented Stabler as one of my favorite players as a kid.

Over the weekend, Stabler was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, with Davis and a multitude of other Raiders Hall of Famers in attendance.

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The Raiders opened the game’s scoring avalanche late in the first quarter, patiently driving 78 yards in 15 plays featuring the running of Mark Van Eeghen and Arthur Whittington. The touchdown came on a second-and-goal from the New Orleans three as southpaw QB Kenny Stabler threw right to TE Raymond Chester. Chester, an intense, dedicated veteran, had been operated on to repair a knee injury just 22 days earlier. The Saints responded, however, coming down the field after the kickoff to move 89 yards in 13 plays to tie the score at 7-7 early in the second quarter.

Nike Raiders #12 Kenny Stabler Black Team Color Men's Stitched NFL Vapor Untouchable Limited Jersey
Nike Raiders #12 Kenny Stabler Black Team Color Men’s Stitched NFL Vapor Untouchable Limited Jersey

More than 29 years after Al Davis traded popular QB to the Oilers, the two men met and mended fences, paving the way for Stabler’s selection to the Hall of Fame. Stabler was a freshly-drafted quarterback from the University of Alabama, and Davis was a ball boy for the Silver and Black.

But it’s not impossible either, thanks to a calculation I call “league shares.” With league shares, we simply take an important counting statistic and look at what portion of the leaguewide total in that stat an athlete accounted for in a given season. We can then apply that percentage to different years if we want to translate his statistics. For example, in 1974, Kenny Stabler of the Oakland Raiders passed for 26 touchdowns while throwing 12 interceptions, numbers superficially similar to, say, Carson Palmer’s in 2016. But in 1974, the entire NFL threw for just 376 TDs, with considerably more picks (500). So Stabler tossed nearly 7 percent of his league’s scores and only 2.4 percent of its interceptions.

“He commanded the huddle,” Butler said. “He gave everybody that confidence. If you watch old NFL Films stuff, he was always making big plays at the end of the game when they needed him the most. For me, ever since I was young, I wanted to be a guy that the team can count on at the end of the game. Regardless of what sports I played, whatever team, position, whatever. I wanted to be that type of player. Kenny Stabler was that.”

Kenny Stabler jersey went on to lead the Raiders to their first Super Bowl win, a dominating 32-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings after the 1976 season. The Snake still ranks as the Raiders all-time leading passer.

Indeed, were it not for Franco Harris’ last-second catch-and-run in that Dec. 23, 1972, playoff game, the heroics of the left-handed Stabler, who replaced Daryle Lamonica at quarterback, would have been the story of the day. It was Stabler’s 30-yard gallop down the Three Rivers Stadium left sideline late in the fourth quarter that gave the Raiders a short-lived 7-6 lead.

The dynamic Stabler now faced a fired-up Saints’ defense and a wild, hostile crowd in the noisy Louisiana Superdome. But carefully schooled to handle challenge and  adversity by college coach Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama and by Raiders head coaches John Madden and now Tom Flores, Stabler bent to his task with pride and poise, conviction and courage.