TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Dennis Homan knows the impact Kenny “The Snake” Stabler had on his life — both on and off the field.
More than simply old teammates, Homan and Stabler were roommates, best friends and one of the best receiver-quarterback tandems to ever play at the University of Alabama.
Which is why, when Homan finally received confirmation Thursday that Stabler, the legendary former Crimson Tide quarterback, had passed away Wednesday evening following a quiet battle with colon cancer, the news hit home harder than any defensive back ever did.
“It’s been a shock to me today. I really didn’t know he was this bad off,” Homan said.
“Kenny was my roommate, he was my teammate, I loved him dearly. He would do anything for anybody, no matter who you were — he was just that type of person. I enjoyed the four years we had together (at Alabama).”
Stabler died Wednesday in Gulfort, Mississippi, at the age of 69, surrounded by his close family and with some of his favorite rock music playing in the background, including Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and Van Morrison’s “Leaves Falling Down,” relatives said in a Facebook post.
Stabler, who had been “quietly” battling Stage 4 colon cancer since a diagnosis in February, is survived by his daughters, Kendra Stabler Moyes, Alexa Stabler and Marissa Stabler, as well as two grandsons, Jack and Justin Moyes.
According to friends and former teammates, Stabler had fought and beaten prostate cancer once before, and it was believed to have returned following a recent doctor’s visit. But the usually lively Stabler generally kept his personal health issues to himself, “so nobody really knew” how bad it had gotten former Alabama teammate Scott Hunter said.
“He was always in good spirits, always ready to sign autographs for fans and talk about the ‘Run in the Mud’ — whatever fans wanted to talk about,” Hunter chuckled.
Per one of his final requests, Stabler’s brain and spinal cord have been donated to Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center to support research for degenerative brain disease in former athletes.
“I am very sad to hear of the death of Ken Stabler. While there have been many outstanding players in our great football history at Alabama, I think it*s safe to say that few —if any — connected with our fans in the way that Kenny did,” Alabama athletic director Bill Battle said in a statement. “He’s one of the few quarterbacks to win a national title in college and a Super Bowl in the pros in a career that ranks among the best of anyone to play the game.
“He was an Alabama man through and through. The thoughts and prayers of all of us in the Alabama Family are with Kenny, his family, and all who knew and loved him.”
Quite the combination on the field, with Homan holding the Alabama career record for receiving touchdowns at 18 until Amari Cooper shattered it this past season, the pair often found ways to team up away from the football field.
That included cheating off Homan’s future wife of 47 years, Charlotte, in one particular class the three shared during their time in school.
“From what I understood from the get-go was Kenny was trying to hit on her too, so I kind of squelched that,” Homan joked.
Described as a “free spirit” and a “fun-loving” teammate and friend, Stabler was usually the life of the party, as both he and Homan lived it up as the toast of Tuscaloosa in the mid-to-late 1960s.
But while the parties were plenty, it usually was Homan’s job to keep his quarterback in good standing long enough to see the field on Saturdays.
“Kenny was smart, he just didn’t like going to class,” Homan remembered with a laugh. “Lord help me, I’d have to get him up and drag him to class so that he could get the hours so he could play football.”
Recruited to Alabama by another late Crimson Tide legend, Paul “Bear” Bryant, in 1964 out of Foley, Stabler is best known among Alabama fans for his 53-yard “Run in the Mud” touchdown in the famous 7-3 victory over rival Auburn in the 1967.
Hunter, who served as Stabler’s backup between 1966-67, was standing beside Bryant when Stabler made that memorable — and muddy — scramble.
“I was holding the play clipboard, it was soaking wet and there was no way to write anything, and Kenny comes out on the option — and Kenny wasn’t a fast runner, he was elusive,” Hunter recalled. “So he turns the corner there and gets a block from Dennis Dixon, and Kenny starts running down the sideline. So I step out onto the field about two or three steps and somebody’s blocking my vision, and it’s Coach Bryant — he’s out on the field two or three steps.
“(But Stabler) just keeps running and running and running, and the thing must have gone on for 20 seconds, and I start thinking: ‘Hey, he might score.’ And he did.”
At Foley, Stabler only lost one game in his high school career, finishing 29-1 before spending his first two years at Alabama behind Joe Namath and Steve Sloan, during which time the Tide won back-to-back national championships.
Unfortunately, Stabler couldn’t quite achieve the same peak of success as his predecessors, despite leading the Crimson Tide to a perfect 11-0 season in 1966, his first season as the starting quarterback.
Although Alabama finished undefeated that year, beating Nebraska 34-7 in the Sugar Bowl, the national polls placed Stabler and the Tide third behind Notre Dame and Michigan State.
Stabler was drafted in the second round of the 1968 NFL draft by the Oakland Raiders, for whom he played the first 10 of his 15-year NFL career before retiring following the 1984 season after three years with the New Orleans Saints.
Stabler, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, led the Raiders to a Super Bowl win in 1977 and was the NFL’s Most Valuable player in 1974.
“He was the best quarterback that I ever had — ever had,” Homan said. “And I’ve played with some good ones. … But Kenny just had a knack, he had a true feel on the ball for throwing it.
“I know one thing — I’m going to miss that ol’ boy.”
Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com