Ken Stabler and his Houston Oiler bosses said today that the weekend revelation of the quarterback's association with New Jersey gambling figure Nicholas Dudich was an attempt by Al Davis, managing partner of the Oakland Raiders, to embarrass the National Football League and Stabler.
Stabler's bosses also said the quarterback insists the association was no more than a handshake in the lobby of a few hotels, a ritual performed by perhaps 20 other Raiders, and that Stabler has denied to the NFL security chief ever betting on games or passing along gambling information.
Oiler executives also pointed out that two separate FBI investigations were inconclusive, and that in July the NFL security boss told them Stabler had done nothing improper. They said the NFL was forced into reviving the issue only because of a Sunday front-page story in the New York Times.
"I'm caught in the middle of one of Al Davis' charades," Stabler said today upon arriving at the Astrodome for a noon-hour workout. "I don't want to dignify it by talking about it. If people can't read that stuff and see what Davis is doing, using me like that, well . . . I'm just going to let it die."
Ladd Herzeg, the Oiler senior vice president and general manager, said he believed it was no accident that the story appeared in the New York Times so soon after the recent Davis-NFL trial ended in a hung jury.
"This thing stunk," Herzeg said, adding that Davis used the opportunity to hurt Stabler, once a Raider all-pro quarterback but traded away a year ago after an acrimonious two seasons in which Davis and Stabler stopped speaking.
"It was very cleverly done," Herzeg said. "The quotes were given to supposedly the most reputable newspaper in the country, to give the story credence right in Pete Rozelle's backyard.
"If that organization (Oakland) can throw a rock and hit two prey at once, it will," Herzeg said. "Davis is out to embarrass the league office and also burn Ken. That's obvious, because without the quotes from Oakland that story would never have been printed."
Davis, who could not be contacted for comment today, was quoted throughout the 2,000-word article, as was his executive assistant, Al LoCasale. The Raiders insisted that at least 15 times between 1976 and 1980 they notified the league office of Stabler's association with Dudich, whom the Times identified as "an associate of the Princeton-based Simone DeCavalcante organized crime family."
The NFL denies receiving so many calls from Oakland, saying the number was not more than two.
League sources also dispute the Times' allegation that Stabler received "repeated warnings" from the Raiders to cut off his relationship with Dudich. In a 90-minute meeting with NFL security boss Warren Welsh on Monday, these sources said, Stabler said no one in the Oakland organization ever told him that face to face. The only such warning, Stabler said, came in a general team meeting at which then-coach John Madden warned all the players that Dudich was a known gambler.
According to the language of a standard contract, NFL players are prohibited from contact with known gamblers or gambling activity. Violation is punishable by fine, suspension and/or expulsion. In 1963, Paul Hornung and Alex Karras were suspended indefinitely for betting on their own teams (and Hornung for passing on gambling information). The suspensions, levied by Rozelle, lasted one season.
The Oilers' owner, K.S. (Bud) Adams, joined his general manager, Herzeg, in suggesting that Davis' manipulative hand is behind this latest of Stabler's controversies.
"I'm afraid that's what happened here," Adams said. "It's ironic -- the timing and the story itself. It doesn't allude to anything but what Al Davis says."
"It's between trials," said Joe Browne, the NFL's director of information, "and Al likes to keep things hot."
Browne said that Rozelle, the league commissioner, did not yet have the report of Welsh, and that any announcement likely would come next week, not before the Oilers open the season Sunday in Los Angeles.
Welsh's report to Rozelle, according to Herzeg, will show that Stabler told him that a teammate introduced him to Dudich.
"Ken said his relationship with Dudich was no different from that of 15-20 other players," Herzeg said. "In fact, Ken got heated up at one point and asked Welsh, 'Will you investigate the 15-20 Oakland players who know Dudich?' "
Herzeg said Stabler told the NFL man, "We'd get off the bus and go into the lobby, and Dudich would run up to me and shake my hand. Everybody knew him. The guys called him 'Nick the Stick.' Everybody would start saying, 'Stick, Stick, Stick.' I'm not going to go around to the back entrance and go up the service elevator just to avoid this guy. If Nick Dudich walks up to me and shakes my hand, does that mean I'm associated with a known gambler?"
According to Herzeg, Welsh asked if Stabler ever bet on games or passed on information to Dudich. "The answer was negative," Herzeg said. "Ken said to him, 'Listen, I'm in this league 11 years. From the git-go after I was introduced to this guy for 15 seconds, somebody told me to watch out because he's a known gambler. I never had a private discussion with him.' "
Herzeg said he believes Rozelle's announcement, when it comes, will absolve Stabler. The owner, Adams, said, "I would think this thing is over now."