Throughout NFL history, there have been countless plays that defy simple football logic. From the River City Relay to a 300-pound kick returner, and everything else in between, these moments are impossible to forget. Perhaps one that still doesn’t get enough credit for its ridiculousness is the famous and controversial “Holy Roller” touchdown.
Back on September 10, 1978, the San Diego Chargers hosted the Oakland Raiders at San Diego Stadium. Usually, when these two AFC West rivals meet, all bets are off. It was especially true that day, and the outcome was decided on the game’s final play.
With 10 seconds to go, and trailing 20-14, the Raiders needed a touchdown. It’s exactly what they got, but certainly not in typical, or even legal, fashion.
The Holy Roller Touchdown
Late in the fourth quarter, after the two-minute warning, the Oakland Raiders needed a little luck, but not a miracle. Quarterback Ken Stabler and the Raiders had the ball on the Chargers’ 14-yard line with 10 seconds left.
Stabler took the snap under center and dropped back. He had nowhere to go and the rush was coming. He was trapped. Then, as soon as he got hit, the ball popped out. Running back Pete Banaszak tried to recover the fumble, but he was going to get tackled. So he flung it forward and tight end Dave Casper recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown.
Sounds like a crazy play, right? Well, it was. The wildest part is Stabler, Banaszak and Casper all threw a forward pass or hit the ball forward. Stabler even admitted it to NFL Films. All of them were ruled a fumble, however, and the NFL agreed with referee Jerry Markbreit’s ruling.
It is remembered as the “Holy Roller” to many and the “Immaculate Deception” — a controversial spinoff of the Immaculate Reception — by some angry Chargers fans. It also produced a legendary call from announcer Bill King.
“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! The Chargers are standing, looking at each other. They don’t believe it. Nobody believes it. I don’t know if the Raiders believe it! It’s not real! Fifty-two thousand people minus a few lonely Raider fans are stunned. A man would be a fool to ever try and write a drama and make you believe it. This one will be relived forever!”
Neither team made the playoffs that year — the Denver Broncos won the division — but that play and comeback has never been forgotten in pro football history and ultimately led to a rule change.
A lot has changed since that game. The Chargers are now in Los Angeles and the Raiders have moved to Las Vegas this offseason, but the rivalry is still alive and well.
This post was originally published on June 3, 2020.