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On This Date in Sports September 10, 1978: The Holy Roller

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The Oakland Raiders get a miraculous and controversial 21-20 win on the road against the San Diego Chargers. Trailing 20-14 with the ball on the San Diego 14, the game appeared to be lost as Woodrow Low sacked Ken Stabler. However, Stabler deliberately fumbled the ball. From there, it was batted forward where Dave Casper landed on it for a touchdown on a play called “The Holy Roller.”

Week 2 saw a battle of AFC West rivals as the San Diego Chargers, coached by Tommy Prothro, were coming off a 24-20 win over the Seattle Seahawks on the road, hosted the John Madden led Oakland Raiders in their season opener at San Diego Stadium. The Raiders started the season with a 14-6 loss to the Denver Broncos in a rematch of the 1977 AFC Championship Game.

For years the Raiders had tormented the Chargers for years. The Chargers had split the two meetings in 1977, ending a decade-long drought that included two ties. Overall since 1966, the Raiders held a 19-3-2 advantage over San Diego. With a young team of budding stars, the Chargers felt they were turning the corner after a 7-7 record in 1977, while the Raiders were looking to get back to the Super Bowl, which they had won two years earlier.

After a scoreless first quarter, the Chargers got on the board first, as Pat Curran reeled in a 14-yard pass from Dan Fouts. Oakland answered with a six-yard pass from Ken Stabler to Dave Casper. The Chargers would get the lead back on a one-yard carry by Hank Bauer, but the extra point by Rolf Benirschke failed, as they went into halftime leading 13-7. Bauer carried a second run into the end zone to make it 20-7. With time slipping away, the Raiders got a big pass play Stable to Morris Bradshaw, resulting in a 44-yard touchdown pass. After the Raiders scored, the Chargers were able to run some time off the clock, as Oakland finally got the ball back at their own 20 with 1:07 left. The Raiders did manage to save all three timeouts, giving Ken Stabler the middle of the field to work the ball down the field. Stabler was able to get the ball down to the 14 of San Diego with ten seconds left. Scrambling and looking to throw, Stabler was hit by Woodrow Low and fumbled the ball forward; from there, the ball was batted forward by running back Pete Banaszak; as the ball rolled toward the end zone, Dave Casper kicked it forward and landed on it in the end zone, for a touchdown, as the Raiders got the extra point from Errol Mann and won 21-20.

The Chargers were not pleased and argued it should have been ruled an incomplete pass since Stabler tossed the ball forward. Further, it was against the rules to deliberately bat the ball forward, both calls that could have easily been made by Jerry Markbreit. However, the veteran official ruled that there was no illegal batting and allowed the play to stand.

The Chargers would go on to lose the next two games, leading to the firing of coach Tommy Prothro. The Chargers would finish the season strong, winning seven of their last eight games, including a rematch with the Raiders on October 19th under new coach Don Coryell to finish 9-7, ushering the era of Air Coryell in San Diego. The Raiders would also finish the season at 9-7 as John Madden resigned at the end of the season and went into broadcasting. The Holy Roller would lead to an NFL rule change the following season as only the fumbling player could advance a fumble after the two-minute warning.