The party line from Houston was that it was all a plant by Oakland owner Al Davis, who said he'd informed the league office of the Stabler-Dudich association, which went back at least five years. Tex Schramm, the Dallas Cowboys' general manager, made a pointed reference to "the Oakland input," suggesting that Davis had given the story to the Times.
"That just isn't true," Davis says. "Tex has become the league lackey. The Times called me."
The Times backs up Davis' contention, pointing out that it had initiated the story using as a starting point material it had had on file for two years and that the reporters who worked on the story, John M. Crewdson and Wendell Rawls Jr., were Pulitzer Prize winners and not the kind of people who would fall for a plant job. The NFL office, which had investigated the Stabler-Dudich association as early as 1978 and had given Stabler a clean bill, launched another, brief investigation into the matter.
"Of course we reacted to the Times story," says Pete Rozelle. "We've got to react to any kind of negative publicity."
As for Stabler's relationship with Dudich, Rozelle says, "I think Dudich is a kind of groupie, nothing more. If something serious had been going on, the betting line would have reflected it, and it never moved much, either at Oakland or at Houston."
The Oiler players rallied around their quarterback. "Hey, The New York Times is read around the world, isn't it?" said Offensive Tackle Leon Gray. "I can just see some guy in Paris picking up the Times and reading the front page and saying, 'Who eez thees person, le Snake?' "
According to another teammate, Gregg Bingham, a linebacker, Stabler isn't quite who he seems to be. "In spite of all his Cool Hand Luke stuff," says Bingham, "his feelings are hurt very easily. When everyone's sitting around a bar in 1995, talking about who the great quarterbacks were in this era, well, all Kenny wants is his name mentioned alongside the other guys'."