Raiders

Raiders

Fred Biletnikoff doesn’t want to speak publicly at Ken Stabler’s induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He let the professional talk instead.

The legendary former Raiders head coach and broadcaster John Madden will present his beloved quarterback in a pre-recorded video aired during Saturday’s enshrinement ceremony in Canton, Ohio.

That suits Biletnikoff just fine. Madden always knew exactly what to say, anyway. Saturday will be no different.

Madden will tell sanitized stories about Stabler the man and the quarterback in this intro, highlighting a deserving entry’s glorious career that included 10 years in silver and black and the Raiders first Super Bowl win.

Madden won’t be there to unveil Stabler’s bust. The 80-year old is recovering from hip replacement surgery and is stuck in the Bay Area, but Stabler needed a representative on site. Stabler’s favorite reciver was the perfect choice.

Biletnikoff is comfortable as Stabler’s ambassador, not his spokesman.

“I’m picking up the slack for John,” said Biletnikoff, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988. “I’m excited about it because I know the family and the kids, but I’m not the type who would want to get up in front of all those people. It’s a little easier to be around and talk to people about Kenny without standing up in front of a huge crowd.

“That said, it’s an honor for me to do it. We’ve been waiting for Kenny to get in all these years. Unfortunately, only his spirit will be there. It’s sad at one part, but I’m happy for the family and that they get to celebrate what he accomplished.”

 

Stabler’s grandsons – affectionately known as the “grandsnakes” – are involved in this weekend’s induction process, which culminates during Saturday’s enshrinement ceremony. Few knew him better at the end, before Stabler died from complications of colon cancer on July 8, 2015 at 69 years old. He was later found to have CTE.

Stabler’s death renewed appreciation for a playing career that was better to watch than read. Stats diminish his impact on the NFL during the 1970s, when the Raiders were the meanest kid on the block. Fans loved the bad boy back then, and Stabler was their heartthrob.

He was a magnetic figure beloved by rabid fans and barflies alike, someone of legend on and off the football field. Few understood both men better than Biletnikoff. That came from experience, when two guys bonded during a rough time.

“We were both going through divorces at the time, so we lived together for three years,” Biletnikoff said. “That’s when we got to know each other really well. There was an age difference, but we were really good friends. There was nothing heavy duty. We left a lot of our personal stuff go by and focused on having a good time.”

That’s the plan again this weekend. The Stabler clan doesn’t want a second funeral, despite reasons to decry a posthumous induction. They want to enjoy this experience, as Stabler would’ve had he been given the opportunity to participate.

So they’ll throw another party for the life of them, celebrating Stabler’s spirit as much as his NFL accomplishments. Stabler rebelled against convention, but he longed for admittance to the most exclusive football club.

“It absolutely meant something to Kenny,” Biletnikoff said. “It’s too bad he’s not here, because he would’ve thrown one hell of a party.”