NFL – Throwback Thursday: The Holy Roller

18 Dec

Two old American Football League Western Division rivals, the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders, meet on this week’s NFL schedule. A game between these two clubs, played on September 10, 1978, is this week’s Thursday Throwback feature game. Like many of the featured games in this series so far, it became legendary because of it’s ending. Also like many of the games in the Thursday Throwback posts, it features the Raiders. Al Davis’ Pride and Poise boys have been a part of many of the most remarkable pro football games over the years, and have been featured here for the “Immaculate Reception” game versus the Steelers, the “Ghost To The Post” game against the Colts and the “Heidi” contest against the Jets. And like that “Ghost To The Post” contest, one of this game’s key players was Raider tight end Dave Casper. The Chargers held a 20-14 lead with only 10 seconds left on the clock and the ball on the San Diego 14 yard line, in possession of Oakland. Quarterback Ken “The Snake” Stabler, who was never known for his artistic grasp on the position but was always a gamer, took the snap and dropped back to pass. He was eventually swarmed by Charger linebacker Woodrow Lowe and as he was about to be sacked, “fumbled” the ball forward. It rolled toward the San Diego goal line, and Raider back Pete Banaszak attempted to pick it up but he knocked it forward also. Casper was the next player to encounter the ball, and he finished the job of getting it into the end zone by tipping it toward the goal line before eventually recovering it for the winning touchdown. Despite howls of protest from the Chargers, the officials ruled the play a Raider touchdown because they claimed they couldn’t determine if the Oakland players intentionally batted the ball forward. Of course, following the game, Stabler said he fumbled on purpose out of desperation, and both Banaszak and Casper admitted they intentionally moved the ball forward. The controversy over the play forced the NFL to change the rules regarding “forward” fumbles. Now only the fumbling player can recover the ball and advance it. If one of his teammates recovers, the ball is returned to the spot of the fumble. Also, most likely under today’s rules Stabler’s original “forward” fumble would be considered an incomplete forward pass.

The game became known in NFL lore as “The Holy Roller” game, although in San Diego Charger fans’ lore, it’s called “The Immaculate Deception”, ironically the same name Raider fans have for Franco Harris’ touchdown in Pittsburgh’s “Immaculate Reception” win over Oakland.





Raiders’ Dave Casper celebrates controversial “Holy Roller” winning touchdown.


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  1. Taylor Montgomery

    December 21, 2013 at 9:14 am

    But flipping back a few pages in history, it was the Raiders’ two comebacks in 1963 against heavily favored San Diego that ignited a coastal flame between these two rivals. And let’s not forget the “Immaculate Deception” in 1978, or the “Holy Roller” game, as Raider fans call it. Trailing 20-14 at Jack Murphy Stadium (now Qualcomm), Oakland had the ball on San Diego’s 14-yard line with just 10 seconds remaining in the game. Raider quarterback Ken Stabler dropped back to pass, but was soon greeted with a facemask full of linebacker Woodrow Lowe. To avoid the sack, Stabler fumbled the ball forward. Two more Oakland players then batted the ball towards the goal line before a Raider finally plopped on it in the end zone. Touchdown. Oakland then converted the extra point with no time remaining. Ball game. Raiders won 21-20.