Last Friday, we republished Pete Axthelm’s great old profile on Ken Stabler, the swashbuckling former NFL quarterback who died at the age of 69 last week. In that profile is an unbelievable anecdote about a “prank” that is impossible to imagine happening in today’s NFL.
From the story:
The only affair involving Stabler that brings no laughter, it seems, is the ugly incident after the 1978 season, when Sacramento writer Bob Padecky was set up for a cocaine bust in Gulf Shores. The circumstantial evidence against Stabler was considerable. Padecky was one of his least favorite writers, yet was invited to Stabler’s hometown for an exclusive interview. Coke was planted under the fender of his rented car and police were tipped off. Padecky unwittingly trivialized the incident a bit with his frenetic by-lined account of his harrowing jail term—which lasted five minutes before the cops realized it was a prank. But the fact remains that someone had executed a cruel and potentially dangerous stunt, and many observers felt that some of Stabler’s friends had participated—with or without his knowledge. When the subject is raised now, all the whimsical and piratical expressions dissolve into a look of abject innocence. “I just don’t know what happened,” he insists. “Maybe nobody ever will.”
That’s insane! Think about the shitstorm that would happen today if, say, Dez Bryant planted some cocaine in Mike Florio’s suit pocket. You know, just for a laugh.
Bob Padecky, the writer who got the cocaine planted on him, recently recalled the incident in the Press Democrat, and the situation was even crazier than you can imagine:
Cotton Long, a Gulf Shores cop, fetched me. “I think you’ve been set up.” I told Cotton he was onto something, all right. Let’s go back to the Holiday Inn where I was staying. Call Stabler and tell him you got mistakenly pulled over for DUI. Maybe the bad guys will return to retrieve the cocaine, I was told.
For 90 minutes, I sat in Room 114 at the Holiday Inn. Gulf Shores police chief Jimmy Maples was in my room, holding his .357 Magnum.
“I got five cars staking out the area,” Maples said. “I can take an army, if that’s what they want.”
Great, I thought. I’m in the Battle of the Bulge. Can’t wait to see what happens next. Maybe I’ll get to interview Big Foot. I was trying to dial down the tension.
After those 90 minutes — as Maples pointed to a cop on the roof of the Holiday Inn — Long returned.
“I don’t want to sell you a bill of goods,” Long said, “but I just learned your life might be in danger.”
Do you want a police escort to the airport in Pensacola, to fly back to Miami?
Thought you’d never ask, I said.
Maples sat with me in my luxurious Bobcat, showing me his weapon resting on his lap.
“This is a submachine gun,” the chief said. “If anyone tries to stop us, you brake the car hard, swerve to the shoulder — and I’ll take care of them.”
The ‘70s were fuckin’ wild, man. Now scroll down and read the rest of Axthelm’s story, it’s well worth your time.