By Zane Miller
As we last left off in the career of Ken Stabler, he had completed an 11-win 1974 campaign with the Oakland (now Las Vegas) Raiders, wherein he led the league in passing touchdowns and finished fifth in passing yardage to claim MVP honors. However, despite a thrilling first-round playoff victory against the Miami Dolphins, Stabler and the Raiders would be blocked from a Super Bowl appearance after losing the AFC Championship Game to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The 1975 season would have similar results, as Stabler again led the Raiders to a winning record, in spite of somewhat diminished passing stats with just 16 passing touchdowns to 26 the year before. The team repeated their first-round playoff triumph, this time defeating the Cincinnati Bengals, before again falling to the Steelers in the AFC title matchup. Going into 1976, Stabler was determined not to lose to Pittsburgh again.
Stabler’s best showing of the year came on December 6th, in a Monday night game at home against the Bengals. Stabler threw for four touchdowns to tie his career high, while also adding 217 yards through the air as well with the Raiders going on to win 35-20.
The Raiders picked up the AFC West for the fifth year in a row, earning a 13-1 record as Stabler quarterbacked all but two victories, as he was replaced by Mike Rae for a pair of contests after suffering a knee injury. However, this setback would prove to be only temporary as Stabler again led the league in touchdown passes with 27, while placing fourth in passing yards with 2,737, 209 behind third-place Jim Hart of the St. Louis (now Arizona) Cardinals. Thanks to these numbers, Stabler became a finalist for the MVP award, eventually coming in third, while also finishing runner-up in Offensive Player of the Year voting and getting a second-team All-Pro nod.
On December 18th, the Raiders had a home matchup against the wild card New England Patriots in the first round of the playoffs. Through the first three quarters, the Raiders were in serious jeopardy of a quick exit, falling behind 21-10. However, Stabler was able to orchestrate a pair of fourth quarter scoring drives, as he drove 70 yards downfield to cut the New England lead to just one possession, before finishing the comeback with a 68-yard drive, which was punctuated by Stabler running into the end zone himself with just 14 seconds remaining in regulation time. As a last-ditch pass attempt from Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan was intercepted, the Raiders were officially on to the second round with the 24-21 victory, as Stabler threw for a touchdown and 233 yards. The next week, they would face an old nemesis once again.
On December 26th, the Raiders remained in the Bay Area to face the Steelers for the AFC crown for the third season in a row. After getting the only score of the first quarter with an Errol Mann field goal, the Raiders pulled ahead with a short rushing touchdown by veteran running back Clarence Davis. The Steelers responded with a running touchdown of their own as Reggie Harrison found the end zone, making it a 10-7 game. However, this would be the only dent the Steelers would make offensively, as the Raiders added a touchdown before halftime and another in the third quarter to win 24-7, advancing to their second Super Bowl in franchise history. Though Stabler passed for a mere 88 yards on the day, he also contributed a pair of passing touchdowns, hitting tight end Warren Bankston and running back Pete Banaszak in the victory.
For Super Bowl XI on January 9th, 1977, the Raiders headed to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California to face the NFC-winning Minnesota Vikings. Although both defenses held their own in the first quarter, maintaining a 0-0 score, that parity would be short-lived as the Raiders began their domination, scoring two touchdowns and a field goal to claim a 16-0 halftime lead. Minnesota would never recover from the onslaught, as Oakland preserved their three-possession advantage to the end of the game, earning their first Super Bowl title 32-14, while the Vikings, as of this writing, have not been back to the big game since. Stabler showed once again why he was an MVP finalist, throwing for one touchdown to tight end Dave Casper and 180 yards with no interceptions.
Following his Super Bowl-winning pursuit, Stabler continued his career in Oakland as the primary starter through the 1979 season, where he further solidified his legacy as one of the best signal callers in franchise history as he would never have a losing record in a full season with the team. In addition, Stabler led the Raiders to another playoff appearance in 1977, winning the first round matchup against the Baltimore Colts in double overtime, before losing to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game.
Stabler was traded to the Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans) for the 1980 season, initially finding success as he went 11-5 to help the team to their third straight playoff appearance, though he would lose what would be his final postseason game to his old team, as the Raiders won the first round matchup, going on to win that season’s Super Bowl.
In 1982, Stabler joined the New Orleans Saints as a free agent, although his prime seasons were behind him as he was unable to secure a winning record with the struggling franchise. Following an ugly start to the 1984 season, Stabler abruptly retired, finishing his NFL tenure with 96 career wins, an MVP award, and a Super Bowl ring.
Shortly after retirement, Stabler embarked on a broadcasting career, first serving as a color commentator for NFL on CBS during the 1988 season, before having a more permanent role as a color commentator for University of Alabama football radio broadcasts from 1998 to 2007. In 2016, one year after his passing from colon cancer, Stabler was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.