So, children, you want to know who Kenny Stabler was?
Kenny Stabler was the cool kid in school who pranked the principal and never got caught.
Kenny Stabler was the kid who threw erasers at the board when the teacher's back was turned, then snickered when you got blamed for it.
Kenny Stabler was Tim Riggins, for fans of "Friday Night Lights." He was the bad boy who wasn't really that bad. He was who men wanted to be and women wanted to be with, the perfect QB 1 for the kick-ass-on-Saturday-night, kick-ass-even-harder-on-Sunday-afternoon Oakland Raiders of the 1970s, the most outrageously renegade (and fun) team in professional football.
Between 1973 and 1979, Stabler won a Super Bowl, 74 regular season games and seven postseason games for those Raiders, and when he died yesterday at 69 it gave occasion to ponder just how much less fun the NFL is today than it was then. It's always been a business, pro football, but it's not always been so relentlessly, soullessly corporate. And so you wonder what would have happened had Stabler come along now instead of when he did.
I'll tell you what would have happened: He'd have been traded five times because five organizations (they're not teams anymore; they're "organizations") would have decided he wasn't worth the off-the-field "distraction." He'd have been traded because the percentages say you can't keep drawing up plays in the dirt and flinging the ball into the teeth of the Cover-2 and succeed in Today's NFL. He'd have been traded because of that Instagram photo of him partying the night before a game, and that other Instagram photo of him partying the night before a game, and that other Instagram photo of him partying the night before a game.
Shoot. In Today's NFL, Johnny Manziel's considered a hell-raiser and a bust because he goes to Vegas every so often. The Snake and the rest of the boys in Oakland would have asked if Johnny Football wanted a nice glass of milk to go with that choirboy getup.
Now Manziel gets packed off to rehab to deal with his "maturity" issues, and what a world, what a world. The NFL got rich and traded its soul in return. It's more popular than ever, but not nearly as much fun. The money keeps rolling in, and now quarterbacks aren't quarterbacks anymore but investments, and if they don't genuflect before the computer models and live the lives of Trappist monks, they're considered bad investments and it's on to the next guy.
No room in this NFL for that pass the Snake threw against the Dolphins, with the clock winding down and the end of the season staring him in the face. So the Snake scrambled and got hit and then he let the thing go into the end zone as he was going down, let it go into triple coverage, let it go into the arms of Clarence Davis and into legend.
Today the NFL courtiers who pass as "commentators" would have been all over talk radio the next day, saying Stabler just got lucky. Saying it was a dumb pass that should never have been thrown. Saying, despite the fact he got away with it and the Raiders won, this was exactly why long-term Kenny Stabler was a bad investment.
One weeps. And then, raises a glass.
To hell with the Shield. I'll take the Snake -- and the Snake's NFL -- any day.