SAN FRANCISCO – Ken Stabler was the NFL’s MVP in 1974.
He was author to some of the greatest plays in NFL history, from the Sea of Hands to the Ghost to the Post to the Holy Roller.
The late Stabler, who died of colon cancer last summer, led the Oakland Raiders to a Super Bowl XI title, and he is a finalist as a seniors candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But those accomplishments in life may pale in comparison to what he did in death.
“I think Kenny’s best play was donating his brain,” Stabler’s life partner, Kim Bush, told me by phone from Mississippi on Wednesday. “It’s bigger than the Super Bowl. Bigger than anything out there.”
Bush hopes Stabler’s legacy is one that helps combat the disease. Because, as Bush said, football is not going anywhere so the game must be made safer, and Stabler, as the first Super Bowl-winning quarterback diagnosed with CTE, brings a high-profile face to the fight.
“We just have to hope we can make the game safer and give treatment for guys going through it,” she said. “It cannot be ignored.
“We hope to invoke change and progress.”
One of Stabler’s three daughters, Marissa, told "Outside the Lines" the family was not surprised at the diagnosis.
“We witnessed his struggles throughout my life,” she said. “It wasn’t until recently where the conversation was around CTE that we made that connection.
“But I think it just goes to show that no position, within football, is immune to it. He was a quarterback, but playing a long career, over 15 years, obviously that racked up some damage.”
Bush said Stabler had been showing signs of CTE for at least 10 years. He often repeated himself, suffered from constant headaches and ringing in his ears, and everyday noises, from pots and pans clanging at dinnertime to music on the car radio, caused discomfort.
The deaths and diagnoses of Dave Duerson and Junior Seau brought it home for Stabler, Bush said, and that’s when they discussed his donating his brain upon his death.
“I need to do that, be a part of it,” Stabler said.
Cancer took his life on July 8.
“I think in his gut he knew,” Bush said.