Foley's Kenny Stabler roast is well attended. The spacious new civic auditorium is nearly full in anticipation of seeing the local hero who has made it nationwide get his verbal comeuppance. Mayor Holk and Dr. John E. Foster, the master of ceremonies and long-time physician to Foley's athletic teams, are everywhere, planting suggestions for sharp jibes with the forgathered roasters. The most interesting contrast of the evening is between Stabler and Scott Hunter, the Atlanta Falcons' quarterback and Stabler's successor at 'Bama who has journeyed down to Foley to deliver the invocation. Stabler is massive, bearded, almost bearlike in his heavy-shouldered carriage; Hunter, active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, is dapper, clean-shaven, very sincere. He could be the president of the Jaycees. Stabler could be a fugitive from a chain gang.
Seated in a high-backed, throne-like chair in front of the stage, Stabler takes the roasters' best shots, wincing with mock outrage at the repeated references to his dubious intellectuality, his unconventional training habits ("Eight beers and two hours' sleep a night," says Banaszak, "that's the way to stardom as an NFL quarterback"), his penchant for monogamy ("He's a one-woman man—one woman a night").
"The other day," says Tony Cline, "my son asked me, 'Daddy, when are they going to roast you 'When I get overweight and overpaid,' I told him."
Terry Henley, a former Auburn football player, embroiders on the theme of Stabler's womanizing. "Up at 'Bama, Kenny had a girl friend who was so ugly that when she went to the school psychiatrist he made her lie face down on the couch. Why, she was so ugly that Kenny couldn't bring himself to take her out to dinner. Instead he'd put her in a corner and feed her with a slingshot."
The digs are harsh, hard, biting close to the marrow. The fans love it. Stabler gives as good as he gets. When all the roasters have had their say, he delivers a brief rebuttal. His voice is once again his public voice, shading to the higher registers, tentative, almost boyish. But in a few words he rips everyone who savaged him, and then some. The good people of Baldwin County, Ala. leave the hall sated with rubber chicken and ribaldry.
"Good folks," Stabler says later, driving back toward Gulf Shores. "Yeah, I'll die here. I really haven't given much thought to what I'm going to do when I'm done with football. Something competitive, though. It has to be something with a hard challenge to it. Maybe racing boats, or racing cars. I really get off on high speed, keeping to the edge of control. If I was to coach, as a lot of people have suggested, I wouldn't want to coach anything above the high school level. Not college football and certainly not the pros. But my life-style is too rough—too much booze and babes and cigarettes—to be a high school coach. I'd hardly be a shining example to the young athletes of the future. The quarterbacks I admire most are Bobby Layne and Billy Kilmer—tough, hard-living guys who don't know how to quit. We've got a lot of that spirit on the Raiders. For the past five or six years we've been the best team, overall, in the game, and yet, until last season, we never quite made it all the way. But we kept on a-truckin', never quitting, never doubting our ability to do it. Al Davis is tough and it rubs off on the rest of us, all the way down the line.
"But Al can be generous, too. Look at this Super Bowl ring—it's got to be the most expensive one any owner has ever given to his team." The crest of the ring glints in the humid darkness—16 small diamonds, one for each of the Raiders' 1976 victories, encircling a large stone that represents the Super Bowl triumph. "The only thing that's missing is a little chip of coal on the bottom of the ring, to represent the shellacking New England gave us early in the season."
Stabler cruises down the main drag of Gulf Shores. A light surf is sloshing in off the Gulf, lit by a fat, white moon. From the Pink Pony Pub come the sounds of revelry—war. whoops and rebel yells, the clink of beer pitchers and the whine of the juke box. Kenny Rogers' voice grates through the cooling, wet air, bitter with salt. "You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille, with four hungry children and crops in the field...."
"Sure hope it rains," says Stabler. "The farmers are losing their shirts. Anyway," getting back to his point of departure, "I'll never end up in coaching. Maybe I'll open up a honky-tonk here in Gulf Shores. Or maybe a little marina with a pool table and a juke box and tanks full of live bait. Honky-tonks and marinas—that's where I spend most of the good time anyway. But whatever it is, I'll die here." He turns the truck toward the sound of the music. "Hell, I'm falling behind in my clean-living campaign. Let's grab us a beer."