Ken Stabler at a radio broadcast in 2008. (Michael Cohen/Getty Images)
Update Monday 10:25 a.m.
On Saturday night, Ken Stabler's family learned that the former Raiders quarterback has been selected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Stabler joins seven other football greats in the Class of 2016: Brett Favre, Kevin Greene, Marvin Harrison, Orlando Pace, Tony Dungy, Dick Stanfel and former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr.
Then enshrinement ceremony will take place on Saturday, August 6th in Canton, Ohio.
Kim Bush and Ken Stabler met on Super Bowl Sunday 1999.
“The title I use is his life partner. We were too old to be girlfriend-boyfriend,” said Bush.
Every year, the two celebrated their anniversary on the day of the big game. This year it falls on Feb. 7.
A former Super Bowl winner and NFL MVP, Stabler spent 10 seasons in the Bay Area, playing quarterback for the Oakland Raiders. He died last year on July 8, losing his battle with colon cancer about seven months before the big game.
Stabler left his brain to Boston University researchers, who are studying the ramifications of a life in a collision sport. On Wednesday, they announced their results. They found Stabler had Stage 3 Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), nearly the highest severity of the brain disease. The stage includes decision-making dysfunction and cognitive impairment.
“I was not surprised by the results,” said Bush, who lives in Mississippi.
Stabler’s longtime partner said she saw his brain function continually deteriorate, starting in 2008. She said he struggled with loud noises, had splitting headaches for days, lost his appetite, repeated himself often and had trouble driving.
“It was hard to watch somebody so vibrant and who's played such a superhero role in so many people's minds and lives. It was just very painful to watch,” Bush said.
Stabler was a star in the NFL on and off the field. He led the Oakland Raiders to the Super Bowl XI title in 1977 and won Most Valuable Player in 1974. His running style — weaving through defenders all over the field — led to his nickname, "The Snake." And the Mississippi native’s cool Southern charisma was a pop culture hit for the time, too, with the media, fellow players and the party crowd.
His style was a perfect fit for the renegade Oakland Raiders led by Al Davis, with whom Stabler had a bumpy relationship. He was later traded to the Houston Oilers after 10 season with the Silver and Black.
The cause of CTE is still unclear. It is also not known why some players get the disease and others don’t. But it is without question that repeated blows to the head, like the ones Stabler took, had some effect on his body.
That period that Stabler played in the NFL -- from 1970 to 1984 -- was a different era for sure. The NFL and NCAA have now implemented rules to try to protect athletes. Some of them include forcing players out of games if a concussion or head injury is suspected, mandating that players go through a concussion protocol before returning to a game and penalizing players who use their helmets to make tackles or hit another player in the helmet.
For Stabler, he never regretted playing the game he loved, according to Bush. But she can’t say the same.
“He did not die of CTE, but CTE had impacted his life. I don't know. It seems a high price to have paid for playing a game.”
Stabler is a god to Oakland sports fans (and many around the nation). He is the city’s quarterback. Go to a Raiders game at the Coliseum and you will see as many Stabler jerseys as just about any other former or current player. The love Oakland has for "The Snake" can be echoed by a selection committee this Saturday in San Francisco. For the fourth time, Stabler is a finalist for football immortality: enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
With the recent announcement of Stabler’s brain disease just days before the Super Bowl returns to the Bay Area, coupled with his possible selection into the Hall of Fame, Bush says she is feeling the weight of the increased attention — less than a year after her partner passed away. Her solace, she says, is remembering her life spent with a legend.
“Whether he goes in or out, he’s my hero," she said.