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This week in Raiders history: ‘The ghost to the post’ game

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The Raiders won in Double Overtime to advance to the AFC Championship Game

NFL: Pro Football Hall of Fame-Grand Parade Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Imagine an NFL game today going to double overtime.

Announcers would be beside themselves. The commentary following the game would center around changing the overtime rules to something closer to the college rules.

Everyone would talk about how dangerous it is to have players go this many extended snaps. Surely there must be a better way to decide a game, even an NFL Playoff game.

The rule still exists in the postseason, though, allowing a game to go multiple overtime periods if necessary. Yet, only six games have ever required a sixth period to complete, the last being the Baltimore Ravens-Denver Broncos game in Jan. 2013.

In 1977, certainly a different time, there was no such “talk show rhetoric” following the Baltimore Colts and Oakland Raiders memorable two-overtime game. There was simply an appreciation for a great football game played by two great teams, and the play that defined the great game.

That play, known as “the Ghost to the post” lives on in NFL lore as one of the greatest postseason moments in history. It certainly ranks up there in Raiders history.

The setting was a Christmas Eve contest played in the cold, but fortunately not frigid Baltimore. It was an AFC Divisional Round match. The winner would go on to play the next week against the Denver Broncos.

The halftime score was 10-7. Baltimore’s offense did almost nothing, gaining their only touchdown of the half on a 61-yard interception return from Bruce Laird. The Raiders’ only touchdown came on a Clarence Davis 30-yard run in the first quarter.

Baltimore’s offense remained stagnant in the third quarter, yet they garnered another score off a Marshall Johnson 87-yard kickoff return. It followed the first of Raiders tight end Dave Casper’s two third quarter touchdown catches.

The second gave the Raiders a 21-17 lead entering the final stanza of regulation. It was just his second catch of the game.

In fact, Casper made only four catches on the day, for 70 yards. But every single one was “clutch”. And ironically the most notable of the four came on the only non-touchdown of the bunch.

The post he caught to set up the game-tying field goal in regulation, remains one of the most famous catches in NFL postseason history—up there with the helmet catch from David Tyree, one of a couple catches from the Super Bowl played a year later between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals, the catch off the turf from Julian Edelman in the 28-3 Super Bowl, or even the infamous “Immaculate Reception”.

There are others as well. The point here is not to rank them all. The point is to adamantly suggest Casper’s Willie Mays-style basket catch sits high atop that list of great catches in NFL postseason history.

Its importance is unquestioned. If Casper does not make the 42-yard catch, the Raiders likely would not have put themselves in field goal position, and by extension would have not taken the game into overtime, or double overtime.

The play itself, as documented on Raiders.com, by Jerry Knaak, was “91-in”. The Raiders would have both outside receivers—Fred Biletnikoff and Cliff Branch, each of whom had big yardage totals on the day—run “In” routes.

They would align on separate sides and run straight across the middle of the field at varying levels. Meanwhile, Casper would run straight up the seam and aim for the middle of the goalpost on a “Skinny post”.

Casper notes in the aforementioned piece, he hadn’t seen the ball on that play one time all year. But the Raiders had run the play successfully that day, and Raiders coach John Madden asked his star pupil, Tom Flores, to watch the safety activity when when they did run the play.

The answer was to the liking of Madden, and made this a wise call in a have-to-have-it situation. But the best play call does nothing if the execution is poor. It was anything but for the Raiders.

Ken Stabler led the tight end a bit too much up the field. Then again, it was a safe throw that only Casper could corral. The tracking ability of Casper, though, is what made the play so iconic.

The fact it led to a field goal which capped the wild fourth quarter of scoring almost seems secondary at this point.

It makes you think, what if the Raiders had not tied the game and won in overtime, or had tied, but lost in overtime? How would that game be remembered? How would that catch be remembered?

The throw, and particularly the catch, were “clutch” no matter the end-of-game result.

The fact Casper would catch the game-winning touchdown only adds to the lore. What a performance! What a game! Raiders win 37-31!

That’s the only kind of “talk show rhetoric” needed after this game.