Today a childhood sports hero of mine passed away. I had no idea it was eminent and then the post appeared on my screen on Facebook.
Kenny Stabler was the first quarterback I ever knew. I knew very little about the actual game, but I knew Kenny Stabler. #12 he wore. Quarterback. Long haired renegade of the NFL’s renegade team. I remember drawing pictures of him and once asking my teacher how to spell Stabler. And always with the caption “Hut, hut, hike.”
The Raiders were IT in the East Bay in the 70’s and I grew up knowing it. Kenny Stabler was the main man.
Later I would become more familiar with Al Davis, and John Madden. I knew and liked many of the other players; Kenny, however was the quarterback. He was my favorite.
He was one of the few players I felt I would truly like to meet one day. Shake his hand, hear the voice for myself, and see that sly smile, like he knew what defense had been called.
I’ve bought other Raider jerseys but never felt worthy to own and wear #12. That would be reserved for a signed jersey on the wall.
I’m amazed how deeply the news has affected me. I didn’t know him or have any chance to meet him in the future. And if a chance meeting would’ve happened, it would have been just a friendly handshake, maybe an autograph. I know that.
But something that I can remember as far back as I can, is gone. Does it take something from my childhood or rather remind me that my own end is closer, I don’t know. Either way, a part is now somehow missing.
An interviewer once cited Jack London’s “Credo”. The connection being that Jack London was also from Oakland. The Interviewer read:
“I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
He then asked Kenny to comment on what that meant to him. His response after a moment of contemplation, “Throw deep.”
Mr. Stabler, you didn’t win every game you played. You didn’t complete every pass you threw. You didn’t score every touchdown with 50 yard bombs. You didn’t save every game in the last 2 minutes. You threw deep enough, however, that the little boy that still lives inside me, the one with the over-sized helmet and asking his dad if we won yet, misses you already.