Ken Stabler’s family has confirmed that the legendary quarterback has died at the age of 69.
A story about Stabler’s death was inadvertently posted Thursday afternoon by the Tuscaloosa News and then retracted. His family confirmed his death about an hour later in a statement posted to Facebook.
Stabler played for 15 seasons in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders, Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints after a standout career at the University of Alabama.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Stabler Was ‘Quietly’ Battling Colon Cancer
Stabler was diagnosed in February with Stage 4 colon cancer and “quietly” battled the disease, his family said. He died on Wednesday from complications of the disease at a hospital in Gulfport, Mississippi.
“He passed peacefully surrounded by the people he loved most, including his three daughters and longtime partner, as some of his favorite songs played in the background, such as Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and Van Morrison’s ‘Leaves Falling Down,'” his family said in a statement.
His brain and spinal cord will be donated to Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center to support research for degenerative brain disease in athletes, his family said.
Funeral plans have not yet been finalized.
Stabler had worked in broadcast booth after his NFL playing career ended. He worked as a color commentator on CBS during NFL broadcasts, and later on the radio during Alabama football games until 2008.
Stabler also started the XOXO Stabler Foundation.
“The XOXO Stabler Foundation’s mission for a Game Plan for Hope brings caring and focused people together to build awareness and bring funding and Hope to a variety of causes,” the charity’s website says.
The charity has raised thousands of dollars, with most of the money going to the Ronald McDonald House of Mobile, through an annual celebrity golf tournament in Point Clear, Alabama.
2. He Is Survived by His 3 Daughters & 2 ‘Grand Snakes’
Stabler is survived by his three daughters, Kendra Stabler Moyes, Alexa Stabler and her fiance Hunter Adams and Marissa, and two grandchildren, Jack and Justin Moyes, who he called his “grand snakes.”
His family says Stabler “was a kind, generous and unselfish man, never turning down an autograph request or an opportunity to help someone in need. A great quarterback, he was an even greater father to his three girls and grandfather to his two ‘grand snakes.'”
He was married three times, first to Isabel Clark in 1968. After divorcing Clark in 1971 he married Debbie Fitzsimmons in 1974. They were divorced in 1978. He then married former Miss Alabama Rose Molly Burch in 1984. They divorced in 2002.
3. He Is a High School & College Football Legend in Alabama
Stabler was a high school football standout at Foley High School in Alabama, according to the Tuscaloosa News. He then went on to play for three seasons at the University of Alabama, where he was the Crimson Tide’s starting quarterback for two years.
Stabler was forced to sit on the sidelines during his first year at Alabama, because of NCAA rules at the time, and watched as Joe Namath led the Crimson Tide to a National Championship. He then split time during his sophomore year with Steve Sloan, according to the Bryant Museum website.
He became the full-time starter and led Alabama to an 11-0 season in 1966, including a rout of Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl, but the Crimson Tide finished the season ranked third, behind Notre Dame and Michigan State.
Alabama went 8-2-1 during his senior season, but it was during the rivalry game against Auburn University that year that he completed one of the most memorable plays in school history, known as the “Run in the Mud.” The Bryant Museum website explains the play: “The two arch rivals were played during a torrential downpour on a very muddy Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. Trailing 3-0, Stabler broke loose for a 47 yard touchdown run behind great blocking to seal the 7-3 victory.”
Watch video of the play below:
Stabler earned All-Southeastern Conference and All-American team selections in 1967. He finished his Crimson Tide career completing 180 of 303 passes, with 16 touchdowns. He also ran for 838 yards and rushed for nine touchdowns.
4. He Is Remembered as One of the Best NFL Players Not in the Hall of Fame
Stabler was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the second round of the 1968 NFL draft. He would play for 15 seasons, including 10 with the Raiders, according to NFL.com.
In 1977, he led Oakland to a Super Bowl victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
He left the Raiders after the 1979 season, and played for two years with the Houston Oilers and three years with the New Orleans Saints before hanging up his cleats.
Stabler finished his career with 194 touchdowns, 222 interceptions and 27,398 passing yards, according to the NFL’s website.
He is not in the Hall of Fame, though there have been many calls for him to be enshrined in Canton and he has often been called one of the best NFL players not in the Hall.
The New York Times broke down Stabler’s Hall of Fame credentials in 2012. Andy Barall, of the Times’ Fifth Down Blog, wrote about Stabler:
Perceptions of Stabler illustrate the inevitable gap between history and memory. He tends to be remembered in the glow of all those important and exciting games the Raiders were a part of in those years and the pivotal role he played in them. The Sea of Hands. The Ghost to the Post. The Holy Roller.
A successful NFL career is usually the product of a combination of talent, hard work, and a little good fortune in being in the right situation. In Oakland, Kenny Stabler was the starting quarterback on a football dynasty. He was surrounded by some of the greatest players and coaches of his time. For all his achievements, he should’ve been better, for longer. He should’ve been a Hall of Famer.
5. The Tuscaloosa News ‘Inadvertently’ Posted a Story About Stabler’s Death Before It Was Confirmed
The Tuscaloosa News said in a correction:
Preparing to report on an unconfirmed but wide and persistent rumor that former Alabama football player Kenny Stabler had died, tuscaloosanews.com inadvertently and briefly published an incomplete story that we were preparing in the event that the story was confirmed. At this time, it is not confirmed. Unfortunately, other news outlets used social media to share the report. We regret the error and any emotional distress caused to Stabler’s family, friends and fans.
But the story turned out to be true. The reporter on the story, Aaron Suttles, gave his explanation on what happened on Twitter:
Early this afternoon I received confirmation that former University of Alabama quarterback and Oakland Raider great Kenny Stabler passed away in Gulfport, Miss. My news organization, The Tuscaloosa News, requires that I obtain two, independent sources before I report any news. Being correct always takes precedent over being first in our newsroom. While I attempted to obtain the second, independent source, our web administrator accidentally published a rough draft of my story. He quickly realized his error, and took the story down immediately. Unfortunately our system is set up to tweet any new stories that are published. By the time the story was deleted, the tweet had gone out and the cat was out of the bag.
I’ve worked my entire career to earn your trust. I apologize that we failed you today. But most of all I apologize to the Stabler family. There is no excuse for what happened today. Our news organization takes full responsibility for our error.