RIP: NFL Legend Ken 'The Snake' Stabler

Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler, tries to evade Hall of Fame defensive end Jack Youngblood of the Los Angeles Rams during the Rams 24-17 loss to the Oakland Raiders on September 2, 1979 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Stabler died on July 8, 2015. He was 69. NFL/AP

If Satan is a sports fan, he has a poster of Kenny "The Snake" Stabler on his bedroom wall. This one, perhaps. Consider that a left-handed compliment for one of the two greatest southpaws ever to play quarterback in the National Football League (the other being Steve Young). Stabler, who incredibly is not enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, died on Wednesday in Gulfport, Mississippi, at the age of 69.

In the 1970s the Oakland Raiders, Stabler's silver-and-black, were the franchise your parents did not want you hanging out with after school. The Hell's Angels in shoulder pads. A Richard Pryor album wrapped in an issue of Mad magazine in a Ramones concert. Highlight footage of those vintage Raiders teams of the '70s are tantamount to NFL unnecessary roughness teaching videos.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were more dominant, the Dallas Cowboys more popular, the Miami Dolphins more perfect and the Minnesota Vikings more...arctic, but the Raiders were the NFL's most seductive band of recalcitrants. The NFL was never more uninhibited and, well, violent, and the team that brazenly carried that Jolly Roger of anarchy was Stabler's Raiders.

Defensive end Otis Sistrunk, who had bypassed college in favor of the Marines and whose bald, black pate was at the time a unique look, was touted as being from the "University of Mars." Center Jim Otto wore "00." Owner/GM Al Davis sued the NFL over a relocation issue, which is like suing your parents over the fact that your brother got the top bunk.

And yet Oakland, coached by the man with the ideal temperament for the job, John Madden, assembled a gifted core of talent. Three Raiders from that era—wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff, punter Ray Guy and defensive end Ted Hendricks—now have college football awards named after them to honor the best player in the nation at their respective positions.

In the midst of that madness stood the 6'3" Stabler, the gunslinger whose hand never trembled. In 1974 and 1976 "the Snake," a nom de guerre he had earned in high school, led the NFL in passing touchdowns, but he thrived in an age before analytics.

The Snake had been an understudy to Joe Namath in his freshman year at the University of Alabama. He was booted off the team by coach Bear Bryant as a senior, but then allowed to return. The previous season, Stabler had led the Crimson Tide to an undefeated season only to see Alabama finish third in the polls. He played college football at a time when the Southeastern Conference was still fully segregated. Ken Stabler is a gridiron history lesson.

"Snake was a lot cooler than I was," Madden said in a statement. "He was a perfect quarterback and a perfect Raider. When you think about the Raiders you think about Ken Stabler. Kenny loved life."

The Snake's charm derived from his ability to trot onto the field with the Raiders trailing in the final two minutes looking as if he had just woken up (in whose hotel room Lord only knows). Then No. 12 would lead them to a win in a fashion you had never before witnessed. Watch as Stabler, falling forward and with Curt Gowdy's inimitable voice adding gravity to the moment, completes this game-winning touchdown pass to Clarence Davis in the 1974 AFC playoffs, which denied the Miami Dolphins a fourth consecutive trip to the Super Bowl. It is now referred to as the "Sea of Hands" play.

Three years later, in Baltimore on Christmas eve—which happened to also be the eve of Stabler's birthday—another AFC playoff game. Here is Stabler pump-faking before lofting a deep rainbow to Hall of Fame tight end Dave Casper: the "Ghost to the Post" play. Oakland won that game in double overtime.

And finally, the next year in San Diego, on a sunny September afternoon, the infamous Holy Roller play. If it is a sin to be boring, Kenny Stabler's Oakland Raiders were saints.

The devil's quarterback possessed his demons. He was ticketed for DUI three times, which is also the number of times he was married. Whereas the three other passers who comprise the Mount Rushmore of Seventies QBs—Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach and Fran Tarkenton—graduated to great wealth after retirement and induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Stabler achieved neither.

Three years ago the IRS foreclosed on his home and even after that he still owed Uncle Sam $265,000 in taxes. But no one can take away the fact that no lefty passer, not even the San Francisco 49ers' Steve Young, led his team to more victories than the 96 to which Stabler led Oakland, and later the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints.

Kenny Stabler with a football and the fate of his team in his hands was an absolute winner. "I've often said, if I had one drive to win a game to this day, and I had a quarterback to pick, I would pick Kenny," said Madden.

Amen. There is only one drive left for Ken Stabler to finish. It ends in Canton, Ohio.