Brushes with Greatness – Reading Kenny “Snake” Stabler’s Autobiography & Meeting Him in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Snake
by Ken Stabler with Berry Stainback

Rating – 8/10
244 pages
Doubleday
Copyright 1986

Summary –Wine, women, song – and football – what’s not to like? Snake isn’t War and Peace, but it is a lot of fun.

Review – Way back in 9th grade (1986-1987), I had to take Alabama History. Our teacher had this old crank come speak to the class and tell us about some recently-published books about Alabama. I can’t remember much of what the guy said, as most of the books he discussed were about dull stuff about which I couldn’t have cared less.

However, I do remember one book that he mentioned, Kenny Stabler’s autobiography, Snake. This book, he told us, was not something that any of us should read; it was all about Stabler’s bad habits while playing quarterback at The University of Alabama and in the NFL. Of course, I made a note to read the book, but it took me many years to get around to it. (I was bone lazy in the 9th grade).

Actually, the crank did have a point about the book Snake – it’s loaded with wine, women, and song, which is what makes it such great, light reading. Snake details how he used to stay up all night while the Raiders were on the road. (That’s no exaggeration – he literally did not go to bed the nights before some games). There are lots of other wild stories about Snake –

1)      hanging out in a hot tub – nude – with Raider teammate John Matuszak and some flight attendants,

2)       leaving Raider teammate Dave “The Ghost” Caspar alone on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico for several hours during a fishing trip,

3)      as part of his initiation into The University of Alabama lettermens club – walking around the UA campus with a book and a pencil and asking coeds to sign the book. What the women didn’t know was that that the pencil was attached to a string that ran under Snake’s clothes and was tied to his “member.”

4)      Immediately dropping out of The University of Alabama after his last football game.

… and dozens of other stories …

To be fair, Snake actually has some moving material, particularly Stabler’s accounts of his hardscrabble boyhood in Foley, Alabama. Also, football fans will enjoy his accounts of his time with legends Bear Bryant and Al Davis. I thought it was interesting that Snake admits that he made a mistake when he forced the Raiders to trade him before the 1980 season – a season in which the Raiders won the Super Bowl.

One surprising aspect of the book is how rough Snake can be on other people. Among others, Stabler insults:

1)       his head coach with the Houston Oilers and the New Orleans Saints, Bum Phillips, for not passing the football enough,

2)      Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann for being a garden-variety jerk, and

3)      Jim Plunkett – the man who took Stabler’s place as the Raiders’ starting quarterback – for being a mediocre player.

The most unintentionally-amusing insult is reserved for John Matuszak, whom Stabler faults for the Raiders’ loss in the 1978 AFC Championship game. Matuszak – Stabler says with no apparent sense of irony – stayed up partying the night before the game and wasn’t ready to play.

The book ends with the New Orleans Saints releasing Stabler and his playing days coming to an end. Stabler tells the readers that he spends his time playing in celebrity golf tournaments. In 1986, he seemed to be fading into woodwork.

If I had to level one criticism of Snake, it would be that the book ends too soon. Against all odds, Stabler’s life has had a second act, though it has been – in too many ways – a tragedy.

As for me, I hadn’t thought of Stabler for years, until back in the late-1990s, I was in graduate school at The University of Alabama. The Snake was the color analyst for the radio broadcasts of Alabama’s football games. He was always in town during football season, and I saw him out in the bars several times. He was friendly to everyone. One time, I saw him out late at night, then saw him on the field at the game the next morning – wearing the same clothes.

Unfortunately, Stabler’s life has gone downhill since I saw him. He’s been arrested multiple times for DUI, gone through a nasty divorce, lost his home on posh Ono Island (and several other properties) due to failure to pay his taxes, and lost his job as color analyst for Alabama. (In yet another bizarre twist, Stabler’s ex-wife, Rose – a former Miss Alabama – was accused of using IV drugs in the restroom at the Baldwin County, Alabama, courthouse. If this stuff weren’t true, no one would believe it). It’s been an awful time for Kenny, I am sure. The last anyone heard from him, Stabler was in Birmingham, Alabama, and was involved with a company that sells wine; that sounds like a bad joke after all of his alcohol problems. Here’s hoping that things turn around for The Snake.

I recommend Snake. In spite of the lack of updates, Stabler’s autobiography will amuse football fans.

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About mobilemojoman

I have been a Mobile resident for about a decade. Working as a college professor keeps me off the streets and pays the bills. I am married to a woman (the MojoWoman) who is a much better person than I am and we have two beautiful girls who keep us both jumping. My interests are varied - food & drink, sports, politics, exercise, books, travel, Mardi Gras, and all of life's rich pageant. In the future, I'd like to learn more about sailing, photography, Cajun/Creole cooking, making beer and wine, and writing.
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