Guy Fieri has long been a gregarious sort, a risk taker to be sure. That was the case well before he became one of the planet's most popular celebrity chefs. The Food Network star and restaurant mogul owned a few spots around the North Bay, only starting to build what has become a vast empire.
He heard legendary Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler had an endorsement with a local Chevrolet car dealership. That was Fieri's hero growing up a diehard Raiders fan, when the Silver and Black mystique reached its zenith.
Fieri thought he'd take a shot in the dark. If Stabler was interested, Fieri told the car dealer, the quarterback could have a meal at his place, on the house.
One Saturday night shortly after, Fieri got a call he'll never forget.
"They said, ‘Someone who looks a lot like Kenny Stabler just walked in the restaurant," Fieri said on this week's episode of NBC Sports Bay Area's Raiders Insider Podcast. "I had a bunch of people over for a dinner party, but I left right away and rushed to the restaurant. There was Kenny having dinner. I introduced myself, and we just started talking football and food, and became fast friends."
That was the start of a long-lasting friendship with the Raiders. Fieri is as die-hard as they come, and has bled Silver and Black his entire life. He's become an honorary Raider of sorts, and remains incredibly active in the Raiders community. He has hosted tailgate shows from the Raiders parking lot. He has cooked for John Madden's birthday parties, and hosts a special cookout each year at Raiders training camp. He participates in Raiders charitable endeavors, and even participated in Jack Del Rio's charity bocce tournament last week.
Nothing however, compares to becoming friends with Stabler. The relationship started as fan and favorite athlete, but they bonded over common interests and stayed in contact for a long time before Stabler died from complications of colon cancer in 2015.
"Kenny and I became great friends, and getting to meet and get to know him in the last 10 years of his life was a great opportunity for me," Fieri said. "He could tell you a story about a play or moment in history like he was there. He had such a great memory. I remember talking to him one night and asking, ‘Do you know why I am the way I am? You had such an influence on me.' I mean, he made his own rules. He had his own style, and he wasn't going to be put in a corner. He was going to play the way he played and live the way he lived. I always admired him so much."
Fieri has strong relationships with modern Raiders as well, from ownership down to the players.
Before he got on the inside, he was a fan who owned the Oakland Coliseum parking lot. He would come to Raiders games ready to cook.
"I used to bring an arsenal of cooking gear," Fieri said. "I would bring a jambalaya pot. I used to smoke meats the night before and all that stuff. I would never have to buy a ticket. If I would cook, my friends would find a way to get me to the game. Some of my best Raiders buddies came through those tailgate events. People would just have a great time and take care of one another."