Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series on the history of the Raiders.
Desperation, Ken Stabler, Pete Banaszak, Dave Casper, The Famous Chicken, Bill King, John Madden’s big butt.
Those were the ingredients of the Holy Roller, one of the most memorable plays in Raiders’ history.
On Sept. 10, 1978, the Raiders trailed the host San Diego Chargers 20-14 and were down to their final play. As quarterback Stabler was about to be sacked, he either fumbled or flipped the ball forward. Running back Banaszak knocked the ball closer to the end zone, as did tight end Casper before falling on it beyond the goal line.
Raiders announcer King called it “the most zany, unbelievable, absolutely impossible dream of a play.” He also said Raiders coach Madden was on the field, and that he should get his big butt off it before the referees changed their mind.
Five things about the Holy Roller, which King also correctly predicted will be relived forever:
1. Like the Immaculate Reception — Franco Harris’ catch of a deflected pass and touchdown run that lifted the Steelers to an improbable victory over the Raiders in the 1972 AFC playoffs — rules were changed after the Holy Roller. The play wouldn’t have counted under today’s rules that state if a player fumbles after the two-minute warning or on fourth down, only the fumbling player can recover and advance the ball.
— AFL GODFATHER (@NFLMAVERICK) September 10, 2017
2. Had the Chargers won and had all remaining games had the same outcome, they would have made the playoffs. San Diego would have finished 10-6 along with Houston, but would have edged the Oilers for the fifth AFC playoff spot on a tiebreaker.
Week 3, 1978. This was the week after the famous “Holy Roller” game. Raiders won big 28-3 but Snake had an off game: 6-15 for 72 yards 1-TD,4-int. In this game, FB Mark Van Eeghen had his career high 150 yards rushing. pic.twitter.com/l9Q6NU4L93
— Ken Stabler (@TheKenStabler) June 20, 2019
3. The referee was Jerry Markbreit, who ruled the Holy Roller a legal play because, in his estimation, Stabler’s bobble was a fumble and not a pass, and it could not be determined if Banaszak and Casper had intentionally batted the ball forward. Stabler admitted in a 2008 interview that he had intentionally flipped the ball. “I mean, what else was I going to do with it?” the Snake said. “Throw it out there, shake the dice.”
In week 2 in the 1978 season, the Raiders played San Diego in what will forever be known as the “Holy Roller” game. Raiders won 21-20. Snake was 15-35 for 307 yards with 2 tds pic.twitter.com/UkrKcCEu1I
— Ken Stabler (@TheKenStabler) September 12, 2019
4. In addition to Stabler, Banaszak and Casper, Woodrow Lowe and Errol Mann are linked with the play, at least as trivia answers: Lowe was the Chargers’ linebacker on the verge of sacking Stabler, and Mann was the Raiders’ kicker who converted the winning extra point.
— AFL GODFATHER (@NFLMAVERICK) December 24, 2017
5. Besides Madden’s big butt, one of the most enduring images of the Holy Roller was The Famous Chicken mascot falling to the ground and feigning a heart attack after Casper scored the winning touchdown. “The Famous Chicken is reeling, just like the sellout crowd of 52,000,” broadcaster Charlie Jones cackled in a TV voice-over.