Every so often during their elementary-school years, Jack and Justin Moyes’ grandfather would stop by their school, bring lunch and play a game of catch on the playground.
The appearance of “Poppa Snake” would always cause a commotion among the kids at Grayhawk Elementary in Scottsdale. Kenny Stabler might have been a few years older and a few pounds heavier than in his playing days with the Oakland Raiders, but he still threw tight spirals with that rubber left arm. And the bauble from Super Bowl XI he proudly wore around his finger shined brighter than the sun to Jack and Justin’s friends.
“It was the highlight of my week,” Justin said. “We’d tell our friends he was coming and they’d always want to see his rings.”
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The football world last week mourned the loss of Stabler, the hard-partying Raiders legend who died at the age of 69 from complications resulting from Stage 4 colon cancer. Jack and Justin, twin brothers and members of Scottsdale Chaparral’s varsity football team, grieved the loss.
“We were really close to him,” said Justin, who, particularly in younger pictures, is the spitting image of his grandfather. “He definitely impacted our football career in a big way.”
When the boys were old enough to appreciate what Stabler accomplished in the NFL – MVP in 1974, four Pro Bowl appearances, the 32-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI – they couldn’t get enough of his stories. Stabler would tell them about coach John Madden and tight end Dave Casper, wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff and, of course, his accomplices in mayhem, defensive lineman John Matuszak and linebacker Ted Hendricks.
He saved his reverence, however, for Paul “Bear” Bryant, his coach at the University of Alabama.
“Coach Bryant was bigger than life. He was like a God,” said Kendra Stabler Moyes, Justin and Jack’s mother. “(Kenny) would tell the boys how important school is and how he got kicked off Alabama’s team (for his off-the-field behavior). He told them how he had to beg to come back and they how they give him a brown jersey because it’s what they gave to the lowest person on the team. He said Coach Bryant threw it at him and said, ‘Work your way up,’ and he did. He didn’t give up.
“My boys are like that. They’re not the biggest and they’re not the strongest and they’re not the fastest but they have super strong football minds. And they don’t ever give up.”
Stabler, who lived in Alabama, would visit his family in Arizona at least once a year as Justin and Jack grew up. The moment he arrived, the boys would have a football in their hands, waiting to play catch. Stabler never turned them down, although he did have to take a break once in a while.
“We’d wear him out,” Jack said.
“It was like a Labrador and a tennis ball,” Kendra added. “He’d say he needed a TV timeout.”
Stabler moved to the Valley before Justin and Jack’s sophomore year at Chaparral. He became a daily presence in their lives and their football careers. He went to as many practices as he could and every game. After the boys watched film on Saturday morning with their teammates they’d head to Stabler’s house to get his opinion.
“He’d tell us what we were good at and what we needed to work on. He was always positive,” Jack said. “He didn’t miss a thing, either.”
“He always enjoyed watching our friends play, too,” Justin added. “He loved watching our left-handed quarterback, Grayson (Barry). He always said (Grayson) reminded him of him.”
Ken Stabler’s career in photos:
Stabler left his grandsons two cherished keepsakes from his career. Justin, who wants to attend the University of Alabama, received Stabler’s national championship ring from the 1966 season. Jack got his Super Bowl ring. They’ll wear the rings around their necks (their fingers are bigger than their grandfather’s) on Sept. 13 when Stabler will be honored during the Raiders’ season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals at Oakland Coliseum. Kendra said Raiders owner Mark Davis has invited the boys to light the eternal flame that burns in memory of his late father, Al Davis.
“It will be special for them,” Kendra said.
Over the past week, Justin and Jack have called up some of Stabler’s highlights on YouTube. The 42-yard “Ghost to the Post” from Stabler to Casper in 1977. The 53-yard “Run in the Mud” during the 1967 Iron Bowl. The clips help them appreciate Stabler’s legacy.
But it’s their own memories they cherish most, the ones of a grandfather coming to their elementary school for a game of catch.