Ghost to the Post: A Raider Memory
Please allow me to preface this article by acknowledging that I am a lifelong Raider fan. I have spent my entire life watching football through "silver and black" glasses. Quite often the success or failure of the Raiders determines my demeanor. I truly do bleed Silver and Black.
I am a voracious reader of anything that has to do with the Raiders. I spend an embarrassing amount of time at work reading news articles and blogs, anything that has to do with my beloved team. I was reading one of these blogs this week and it sparked a lot of memories.
The writer was commenting about how recent Raider teams differ from Raider teams of the past. Those of us who grew up watching the Raider teams of the '70s grew accustomed to watching the Raiders pull out clutch victories. Some of those victories were against what seemed like insurmountable odds, but somehow those teams found a way to win.
In recent years, our team seemed to always find a way to lose. In fact, when the Raiders beat the Jets last weekend, it went against what has happened to the Raiders in recent memory. The team hung in there and found a way to win. Sebastian Janikowski trotted on to the field and kicked a clutch field goal in overtime to seal the victory.
The longest field goal in team history, the longest overtime field goal in NFL history, it was the kind of effort that brought back memories of the great George Blanda. His clutch performances in 1970, passing and kicking the Raiders to victory week after week.
There are several possibilities as to why things have changed, but this article is not about those reasons. This article is about memories, the glory days of the Oakland Raiders...The team of my youth.
I know a lot of people accuse Raider fans of living in the past, but did you notice most people who say that cheer for a team that doesn't have a past? They are the fans of teams the Raiders victimized over and over again. They cheer for teams the Raiders left in their wake on the way to three World Championships.
Along with the glorious wins, there were some heartbreaking defeats. The "Immaculate Reception," or, as a good friend of mine refers to it as, the "Immaculate Deception."
There was the Rob Lytle fumble in the AFC championship game that cost the Raiders a chance to repeat as world champions. That game was a stark contrast to the events that took place just a week before at the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. The Raiders and Colts met in a divisional playoff game that will always be remembered as one of the NFL's greatest games.
The game took place on Dec. 24, 1977. I was seven years old, but I have vivid memories of this game. My family was preparing to go to my grandparent's house for our annual Christmas Eve gathering. All of my aunts, uncles, and cousins were going to be there.
I was the reason my family was late that night. I refused to leave until the game was over. I sat in the middle of our living room floor and refused to move until I knew the outcome. My parents pleaded with me, saying we could turn the game on at my grandparent's house.
I couldn't believe how foolish they were. Didn't they know this game was in sudden-death overtime? Didn't they know that in the 10 minutes it would take to drive from our home to my grandparents someone could score and the game would be over?
Remember, this was 1977. We didn't own a VCR. We had never even heard of Tivo or DVR. I couldn't come home and turn on SportsCenter later to find out who won. I couldn't go online and pull up scores or video highlights on nfl.com. It was a different world, and there was no way I was leaving that living room.
Much to the chagrin of my parents and my younger brother, they sat on the couch watching the end of what was at the time the third longest game in NFL history.
The Colts had went in to halftime with a 10-7 lead. The second half was a see-saw battle that produced several leads and momentum changes. The Colts led the game 31-28 with just over two minutes to go. Most fans would have been heartbroken at this point.
Your team behind with little time left on the clock, on the road against a tough opponent. I had no doubt in my mind we could win this game. I had seen Kenny Stabler come through in the clutch so many times. I still say that if I was coaching an NFL team, and I needed a score on the last drive of a game, I want Kenny Stabler as my quarterback.
It amazes me that he is not in the NFL Hall of Fame (that is yet another article). With less than a minute left in regulation, the Raiders faced a third and long. As the Baltimore crowd sensed they were on the brink of victory, with the stadium rocking, Stabler casually looked up into the stands. Hall of Fame Head Coach John Madden recalls Stabler saying, "The fans sure are getting their money's worth today."
The play that followed is what legends are made of. As Stabler dropped back to pass, future Hall of Fame tight end Dave Casper (affectionately known as Ghost) was running his pass pattern to the post. Stabler, under duress, launched a pass that Casper had to change direction to track down. Casper made a tremendous adjustment and, looking back over his shoulder like a major league outfielder, made the reception.
It was the greatest catch I had ever seen. It put the Raiders in position to kick a field goal and tie the game, sending it to overtime.
As the first overtime was winding down, the Raiders were drawing close to a score. With 14 minutes left in the second overtime, Stabler found Casper in the end zone from 10 yards out to seal the victory for the Raiders 37-31. This game is still in the record books as the fourth longest game in NFL history.
It was the last appearance by the Baltimore Colts in the playoffs. The team abandoned Baltimore and moved to Indianapolis in 1984. John Madden mentions this game as one of the most memorable of his coaching career.
For a seven-year-old boy in Dillard, OR, it was a game that would fuel my love and devotion for my favorite football team—even if it did make us late for a family Christmas party. My family had to learn where my priorities were.
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