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John Madden recalls Ken Stabler poise: "The hotter the game, the cooler he became"

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Ron Riesterer

Friday, I hopped on a conference call with Raiders Hall of Fame former head coach John Madden to discuss his former quarterback, Ken Stabler who passed away on Thursday of cancer at the age of 69. In that conversation, Madden spoke, among other things of the cool demeanor of Stabler which helped the Raiders to rise up in the biggest moments.

"He really helped me because the hotter the game, the hotter I got and Kenny was truly just the opposite," said Madden. "The hotter the game, the cooler he became.

Madden continued and spoke of the legendary Ghost to the Post game which was a double overtime thriller in the AFC Division playoff game against the Colts.

"We're playing Baltimore in a playoff game in Baltimore and it was one of the real great games in NFL history, the kind that got lost because it wasn't a championship game or a Super Bowl game, anyway it went six periods. At the end of regulation, we're tied and at end of that period we're tied and then we're going into another period and we have a timeout so it's our ball. And we're just kinda crossing midfield. So, I'm there and I'm talking to Kenny during the timeout and he has his helmet cocked back and he's looking back at the stands and I'm talking to him ‘let's do this, let's do that, let's go for it, let's go play[action]' and he goes ‘you know what, John?' and I thought ‘oh great, he has a play' and I said ‘What?'. He goes ‘These fans are getting their money's worth today.' (laughs) and I'm thinking ‘why are you talking about the fans?' and that's the way he was. I'm going all over the board on what we should do and he was just coolly looking up at the stands and ‘They're getting their money's worth today, man'.

"But he was always... in the Super Bowl in the first couple drives we had we got stopped and we had to kick field goals and I was all upset about not being able to finish and not being able to score, we need touchdowns, not come here to kick field goals and all that and Kenny put his hand on my shoulder and said "Don't worry about that, John. There's plenty more where that came from." And the funny thing is, it did affect me. I thought when he said that, ‘he's right', and I felt a heck of a lot better about it.

"And it wasn't just me, it was the whole team. That's what he gave the team. He would throw a bad pass and it didn't bother him. He would forget it and go on to the next one. He'd throw a low pass or throw a pass into the dirt and he'd say ‘Low ball throw or high ball breaker, huddle up.' And go onto the next play. He just didn't let things affect him and he was always positive.

"And in those days the quarterback called the play, so there was a lot to that too. Sometimes we'd forget how smart Kenny Stabler was. He was a brilliant, brilliant quarterback and a brilliant, brilliant football mind. He would set things up and there was a thing that they don't even judge anymore, they call it ‘field general'. And Ken Stabler was a true field general and the offensive players really believed in him and followed him and anything that came out of his mouth they totally believed."

"To this day, if I had one drive I had to make to win a game, I'd want Kenny Stabler as a quarterback. And you just think of in those situations and in those drives when he would get into his drop and that back foot would set and he would stand straight up. He would get taller. He would make himself taller in the pocket. There are some guys that tend to make themselves smaller in the pocket, Kenny Stabler would go back and then he would rise and you just think that's the way he played. The bigger the situation, I'm gonna get back, I'm get to my drop, and I'm gonna step and I'm gonna rise. And then I'm gonna rise to the occasion. And that's what he did."