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Class of 2002
Dave Casper is thankful to the Raider family for his Hall of Fame career.
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Saturday, August 3, 2002
It's as important to be memorable as good
By Amy Chou
When the "Play of the Week" becomes the Play of a Lifetime, a single moment in sports that defines an athlete's career, can be either a good thing or bad thing.
Garo Yepremian's blocked-field-goal-turned-feeble-passing-attempt-turned-fumble-returned-for-touchdown in Super Bowl VII? Bad.
Dave Casper's forward-fumble-into-the-end-zone-turned-game-winning-touchdown that lifted the Oakland Raiders to victory on the last play of the game? Good.
Yepremian, despite being a member of the Dolphins that finished the 1972 season a perfect 17-0, is remembered for "The Pass" and is back at home in Avondale, Pa.
Casper, the tight end on Raiders teams that won two Super Bowls, is remembered for the "Holy Roller" and, perhaps not so coincidentally, is headed to Canton, Ohio, for his induction Saturday into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"(It) would've been nicer to do it a little smoother, with a little more skill and like a dancer or something," Casper told ESPN, recalling his career-defining play that made winners of the Raiders in the final seconds of a regular-season game against the San Diego Chargers in 1978. "But I didn't, I did it like a klutz."
In a bizarre sequence, Ken Stabler intentionally fumbled the ball forward, where it was pushed forward again by Pete Banaszak, before Casper tried to pick the ball up and tumbled the ball into the end zone, falling over it for the game-winning touchdown. The Raiders won 21-20.
The play made an immediate impact. After the season, a rule change now allows only the initial fumbler to advance a fumbled ball in the final two minutes of a half, or on fourth down, immortalizing Casper and the "Holy Roller."
"If everybody would just have kept their mouths shut, instead of taking credit for it, they probably would've just never made a big deal," Casper said. "But then, a couple days later, everybody's bragging, 'Well I knew I had to do this and I knew I had to do that,' so then they made a big stink and they changed the rules, which was the best thing that ever happened to me 'cause they keep playing the darned play."
Casper, nicknamed "The Ghost" during his Notre Dame football years, is remembered for another memorable play: "Ghost to the Post." Casper's over-the-shoulder, 42-yard catch that set up a game-tying field goal, and later his 10-yard, game-winning touchdown both came on post-pattern routes in the Raiders' 37-31 double-overtime victory against Baltimore during the 1977 playoffs.
Casper becomes only the sixth tight end to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, a testament to his multi-faceted abilities at the position. With a lineman mentality, Casper took pride in his blocking strength and caught tough passes like a wide receiver. He had 378 receptions and 52 touchdowns during his 10-year, four-team career in the NFL.
"He made the big plays for us," former Raiders running back Pete Banaszak told the Contra Costa Times. "I think he was a complete tight end."
"They're supposed to be able to block. They're supposed to be able to catch the ball and run with it. And he did it."
Drafted by Oakland in 1974, Casper became a champion, playing a vital part on a Raiders team that beat the Vikings in Super Bowl XI. Though there were stints in Houston and Minnesota, the notable years with the Raiders, particularly his standout 1978 season during which he had 62 receptions and nine touchdowns, is the time Casper credits his Hall of Fame worthiness.
"The Raiders got me here," he said. "I wouldn't have been in the 'Holy Roller,' I wouldn't have been in the 'Ghost to the Post,' I wouldn't have been in the Super Bowl. And they would've said, 'Yeah he was a good tight end.' But what got me here was the little extra ... You can't get (to the Hall of Fame) without an organization around you. You just won't do it. You just won't do it by yourself."
Casper, who was named an All-Pro five times and to the All-AFC team four consecutive years from 1976-1979, becomes the 13th Raider inducted into the Hall of Fame. Former Raiders coach John Madden will introduce him in Canton.
"I've gotten more recognition than I ever expected to get when I started," Casper said.
Casper says it is was more than one play that defined his career. It was the Raiders, the coaches, the era and the determination to find himself "always in the right place at the right time."
And that has been a good thing.
Amy Chou is an intern with ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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