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“Ghost” played tangible role in Casper’s history as a Raider

Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series acquainting fans with the Raiders’ illustrious 60-year history as the team moves to Las Vegas for the 2020 season.

Hall of Fame tight end Dave Casper was the top player at his position in the 1970s and one of the best to ever play the game.

And yes, he was also part of a very memorable play in 1978.

“I played 11 years and had some success and what am I remembered for?” Casper asked in an NFL Films video on his career. “Being a fumbling fool at the end of a ‘Holy Roller’ or whatever you want to call it.”

While Casper was being a bit facetious, the play was an historic moment in Raiders’ history.

The Raiders trailed 20-14 with 10 seconds to play at the Chargers’ 14-yard line when Ken Stabler was about to take a sack that would have ended the game. Stabler kept the play and game alive by flipping the ball forward and running back Pete Banaszak tossed it forward with both hands just before he was tackled.

Casper essentially dribbled the ball the all into the end zone and fell on it for a game-winning touchdown on a play that changed the NFL rulebook and is still debated by Raiders and Chargers fans to this day.

The impact of “The Ghost” extended far beyond one fluky play.

After he was selected in the second round of the 1974 NFL draft, Casper spent two seasons as mostly a special teamer. But then, in 1976, the Raiders figured out they had a dangerous weapon in the passing game at a position that many teams saw as an afterthought. Casper caught 53 passes for 691 yards and 10 touchdowns that season, his first of four straight years as a first-team All-Pro.

One of his most memorable games occurred in a 37-31 win over the Baltimore Colts in the 1977 playoffs. Casper scored on three of his four catches, including the game-winner in the second overtime. But it was the one reception that didn’t find the end zone that is best remembered.

Casper caught a 42-yard pass that Stabler dropped just over his head to set up a game-tying field goal on a play known as “The Ghost to the Post.”

It was one of many highlights for Casper, who was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2002 for a career that saw him named to five Pro Bowls.

Casper spent his first six full seasons with the Oakland Raiders, helping the team to the Super Bowl XI title. He spent time with the Oilers and Vikings before returning to the Raiders to wrap up his storied career in 1984, finishing with 378 receptions for 5,216 yards and 52 touchdowns.

While he ventured away from the franchise for a short time, his eccentric personality helped make him a prototypical Raider.

“With the Raiders we don’t have to put up with any Mickey Mouse stuff,” he said in his Hall of Fame bio. “We don’t have rules about keeping our chinstraps buckled on the sidelines. We don’t have coaches encouraging a lot of false chatter on the practice field. The phony stuff is for losers. We’re treated like intelligent human beings. We don’t live by a lot of degrading rules. Our coaches don’t harass us because they know we’re winners.”

After his playing career, Casper spent 27 years as a financial representative with Northwestern Mutual and retired to St. Paul, Minnesota.

During a 2017 visit to his high school in Chilton, Wisconsin, Casper admitted he was “kind of sad” about the Raiders moving to Las Vegas.

“I wish Oakland would have done more to keep them,” he told students. “I was an Oakland Raider, so I’m going to miss that.”

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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