Ken Stabler's meeting with Al Davis ended a legendary feud, paving way for Hall of Fame

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The two had not had a meaningful conversation for nearly three decades. So, yeah, the tension in the air was palpable.

It was 2009, more than 29 years after then-Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis traded away his popular quarterback Ken Stabler to the Houston Oilers, when the two men finally met to break bread and mend fences in a 90-minute meeting in Davis' Alameda office.

"I think they used me as an ice-breaker," Kim Bush, Stabler's life partner, told ESPN.com this week with a laugh. "You could tell they were both nervous. There was anxiety on their faces."

And why not?

The Davis-Stabler feud was an ugly one, Davis growing increasingly frustrated with Stabler leading the Raiders to "only" one Super Bowl title, saying in 1978 that fans should "blame the lefty ... he makes all the money."

And Stabler responded in kind when asked in 1979 if he would like to bury the hatchet with Davis, saying, "Yes, between his shoulder blades."

As Stabler later put it, his legendary off-field shenanigans did not become a problem until the wins started drying up.

"Al was very rigid in his approach to the game," said former coach Tom Flores, who had Stabler as his starter for one year. "He might not like your hair. He could be selective. But he always wanted a strong-armed quarterback, and Snake didn't have the strongest arm.

"Al did have a philosophy, though, that if you keep guys that helped you win too long, they'll help you lose. ... We argued about it when we traded him."

On this day, though, peace was brokered and, as Raiders owner Mark Davis said of his father's famous feuds, "A lot of wounds had never healed, but that one was healed. Kenny was a great Raider, and I'm glad they got back together."

Said Bush: "It was almost like an unheard collective sigh."

Davis shuffled around his office with the aid of his walker, giving Stabler a walk in nostalgia, Bush a history tour. For 20 minutes the three walked around, looking at awards and memorabilia.

Davis' body was failing him, but his mind was still sharp, Bush said.

"Mr. Davis started telling Kenny, remember that time you hit Cliff Branch for a 23-yard gain?" Bush said. "He was remembering specific moments of games and Kenny remembered, too. At some point, Mr. Davis said the game had changed and building a team was much harder."

And when Davis noticed Stabler's ring from the Super Bowl XI champs, he looked at Bush, whom he referred to as "Miss Biloxi" throughout the visit, a nod to Neil Simon's "Biloxi Blues" play.

"He should have more of those," Davis said, pointing to the jewelry. "That's when I think they realized they probably both made a mistake."

That's when Davis made a grand statement.

"You should be in the Hall of Fame," Davis said. "That's probably my fault. I need to do something about that."

Stabler, a finalist for Pro Football Hall of Fame consideration in 1990, 1991 and 2003, was a seniors candidate finalist this year and finally was selected to the Hall of Fame.

Davis would die two years later, in October of 2011. Stabler attended the funeral.

Colon cancer would take Stabler in the summer of 2015, and his brain was found to have CTE. He was the first Super Bowl-winning quarterback found to have the disease associated with a traumatic brain injury.

That 2009 meeting, though, put an end to a feud that shook the franchise.

"It was a sweet encounter," Bush said. "It was like two old friends, circling back around to where they were. Mr. Davis was very fragile, and Kenny hugged him very gingerly.

"They both found peace."