'Run In Mud' Tops Stabler Memories
Ken "Snake" Stabler was an Alabama All-America in 1967. He was quarterback on Crimson Tide teams that went 28-3-2, including a perfect 11-0 in 1966. He was winner of the Miller-Digby Trophy was the outstanding player in the Sugar Bowl as he completed 12 of 17 passes for 218 yards and rushed for 40 yards in a 34-7 win over Nebraska.
Kenny Stabler was Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. He and Joe Namath were selected as quarterbacks on Alabama's Team of the Century.
Stabler was selected by Oakland in the second round of the AFL-NFL draft. He had been drafted in the second round of the Major League Baseball draft, too, but turned that down for football.
He spent 15 years in the NFL, primarily with Oakland, and was the winning quarterback in Super Bowl XI.
Stabler was also an outstanding color broadcaster of Crimson Tide football.
He has been in the news for other reasons, too, most recently because he owes money to the IRS.
Of all he has done before, and regardless of what he may do in the future, there is one enduring memory of Snake Stabler.
On December 2, 1967, Alabama with a 7-1-1 record faced off against a 6-3 Auburn team at Legion Field in Birmingham. The weather was awful, a heavy rain having turned the field to mud even before kickoff, and the wind and rain continuing throughout the contest.
Alabama punted on third down when the Tide had the wind and on fourth down into the win. Alabama Coach Paul Bryant explained later that the punt was Bama's best weapon, but he punted on fourth down when Auburn had the wind so the Tigers would have less time with the wind at its back.
Auburn had a 3-0 lead going to the fourth quarter, but Alabama had the wind.
An Auburn mistake – a bad snap in punt formation – started Alabama on the way to one of the best known plays in Bama history.
After the bad snap, Bama started at its 46. Two plays gained seven yards and then Stabler called for an option to the right. Only there was no option.
"They had been making me run all day," Stabler said. "I made up my mind there would be no pitch. I was going to run that one."
Stabler picked up blocks on the corner by tight end Dennis Dixon and fullback David Chatwood, and then Stabler started down the right sideline. The left-hander had the ball in his right hand as he ran down the Alabama sideline, directing men to be blocked with his left hand.
Stabler pointed out the final Auburn defender to wide receiver Dennis Homan, and Homan wiped him out.
Although 11:19 remained after Steve Davis kicked the score to 7-3, no one expected Auburn to be able to mount a touchdown drive in that weather.
"It still amazes me the number of people who will tell me about seeing the run in the mud," Stabler said. "The details of the rain and the wind, umbrellas turned inside out, clothes ruined, and yet they stayed to watch. I hear this virtually every day from some Alabama fan. I listen to the whole story because it is a thrill for them and it is a great feeling for me that they remember."
After the game, Bryant said, "I think everybody on both sides tried as hard as they could. There were lots of big plays. But the prettiest one I saw was Stabler's run."
A day after the game there would be a complaint from Auburn Coach Shug Jordan, who claimed Dixon had "tackled" Tigers linebacker Gusty Yearout. Bryant said he didn't see that. "If there was holding, it should have been called," the Tide coach said. "But I wasn't officiating."
A few years later when Alabama was running roughshod over opponents with the wishbone offense, Charley Thornton asked Bryant how Stabler would have been in the wishbone.
"We'd have to put another number on the scoreboard," said the coach.
Editor's Note: I have seen almost every Alabama game since that 1967 Alabama-Auburn game, and that was the last one I saw sitting in the stands. The rest of my life has been in press boxes. Information for this story came from the book, "Game Changers: The Greatest Plays In Alabama Football History."
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