They called Stabler the snake, a quarterback who didn't just throw, he could run.
Denver Broncos quarter back Peyton Manning looked up to him. "NFL quarterback fraternity lost a great one, lost a legend when we lost the snake," Manning said.
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But though the defense could rarely catch up with him, something else finally did. Years later, complaining he often had trouble concentrating, Stabler agreed to have his brain examined after his death.
The diagnosis: "Chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. What we really want to understand is how many hits does it result in CTE, what are the other factors such as environment, such as genetics," Barrow Brain Injury Center Director Javier Cardenas said.
Cardenas studies brain injuries in athletes. He's visiting the Bay Area to teach coaches and trainers about them.
Cardenas said brain injuries are less common in quarterbacks. "Most occurred while playing defense, during tackling," he said.
But unlike a broken ankle, a concussion isn't always obvious.
Diagnosis involves a trip to the doctor though Stanford's working on a tool to do it on the field.
Now, a group of Bay Area high schools will try out a new program from Dignity Health to help coaches decide whether a player who's just taken a hit might have a concussion.
The danger with concussions is often not from the first injury. Athletes can feel like they're ready to go back out on the field. But it's that second injury that could land them in the emergency room. "It affects you for the rest of your life, there is no brain transplant," one woman said.
Trainers are optimistic about the new system that includes emergency access to doctors by video chat and an online course for athletes. "I think it's something good, it's going get them talking about concussions, it's going to get them to open up," Overfelt High School Boys' Athletic Director Mark Delgado said.
And it could save lives, but as for what happened to Stabler. "We simply don't know if we're preventing CTE, because we don't know all the factors that cause CTE," Cardenas said.
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