The Holy Roller and Rich History of Raiders vs. Chargers

Scott Winter
Oakland Raiders Holy Roller Dave Casper Dan Fouts Las Vegas Raiders

The rivalry between the Raiders and Chargers is long and full of memorable moments. But none matches what happened on a Sunday in 1978 in San Diego.

This Sunday marks the 115th meeting between the Oakland Raiders and the Los Angeles (formerly San Diego) Chargers. The rivalry between the two West Coast teams is longest in Raiders history. Although the pendulum swings back and forth depending on the era, the Raiders hold a sizeable advantage in the all-time series 62-50-2. Over the course of the 57 year rivalry, there has been some epic and historic games between the two franchises, however none compare to the game that featured what is called the “Holy Roller.”

The Oakland Raiders opened the 1978 NFL Football season surrounded by controversy. There were lingering and bitter memories of the Lytle Fumble in the 1977 AFC Championship game the season before, and, in the preseason, star safety Jack Tatum paralyzed the New England Patriot’s Darryl Stingley on a tackle. Not only that, but the Raiders had lost the season opener in Denver further compounding the sense of dread surrounding the squad.

The Game

The game started well for Raiders who won the toss and methodically marched down field to the Chargers 10 yard line only to have running back Mark Van Eeghen cough it up. The next drive had quarterback Kenny Stabler throw an interception – the first of three that day. The Chargers would take the lead on a touchdown pass to tight end Pat Curren from quarterback Dan Fouts. The Raiders would then take the next drive to the house and tie the game up 7-7 with 12 minutes left before halftime.

After both teams failed to make a first down on subsequent drives, the Chargers put together an 8 play 75-yard drive to hang six more points on the Raiders. Unfortunately for them, kicker Rolf Benirschke missed the extra point. This missed point would, in the end, make all the difference in the outcome of the game. Both offenses stalled again and the Chargers took a six point lead into halftime.

In the 3rd quarter, Stabler would toss two more interceptions and the Chargers would score another touchdown to begin the fourth quarter with a healthy 20-7 advantage.

With eight minutes to go, the Raiders would add another touchdown on a bomb to wide receiver Morris Bradshaw. After that, neither team could do much to move the ball until the Raiders had one more try with 1:07 left on clock.

The Holy Roller

Stabler was not perfect, but he kept connecting on passes to march the Raiders down to the Charger 14 yard line. After misfiring to wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff there was 10 second left in the game.

The play by play by legendary Raiders radio announcer Bill King from KGO.

“Stabler back, here comes the rush, he sidesteps, can he throw? He can’t! The ball, flipped forward, is loose! A wild scramble, two seconds on the clock, Casper grabbing the ball—it is ruled a fumble! Casper has recovered in the end zone! The Oakland Raiders have scored on the most zany, unbelievable, absolutely impossible dream of a play. … Madden is on the field. He wants to know if it’s real. They said yes, get your big butt out of here! He does! … There’s nothing real in the world anymore! The Raiders have won the football game! Fifty-two thousand people minus a few lonely Raider fans are stunned. … This one will be relived forever!”

The Aftermath

In the grand scheme of things ,this play would become one of the top 10 most controversial calls in NFL History, and one few the few that actually went the Raiders way.  The Raiders would go on to a 9-7 record and not make the playoffs for the first time in six years. The Holy Roller was added to the annals of sports history and forever changed the rules of the NFL.

The next season, the NFL would change its rules making it illegal for teams to advance a fumble down the field. It was legal at the time of this game, but the Raiders dramatic win would force the NFL to change its rules closing a unique chapter in NFL history.