Friday, December 24, 2010

December 24, 1977: Ghost to the Post

BALTIMORE - The Raiders had just called time out. It was third and long, just over a minute to play, and they were trailing the Baltimore Colts by three. As John Madden excitedly went over the play one the sideline, Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler calmly looked around at the excited fans and said simply, "the fans are sure getting their money's worth today." Offensive coordinator Tom Flores caught Stabler's attention, diagramming a play that called for two receivers to run deep patterns. Then he gave one last piece of advice: "Take a peek at the Ghost to the post."

The teams returned to the field, and the play began. Stabler dropped back to pass, then lofted a deep, high-arching pass toward the middle of the field. Tight end Dave Casper, nicknamed "The Ghost," was running a post pattern and had gotten a step on the Colts defenders, but Stabler's throw was a little bit too far to the outside. Casper adjusted, changing directions and catching the pass in stride over his right shoulder, advancing to the 14-yard line before being brought down. From there, the game-tying field goal was a sure thing.

The game to that point had already been a classic. The Colts had a 10-7 lead at halftime, the big play being a 61-yard interception return touchdown by Bruce Laird. The scoring picked up in the second half, with the Raiders and Colts alternating touchdowns for the entire 30 minutes, the lead changing hands six times in that half alone. Casper scored twice for the Raiders in the third quarter, while Baltimore's Ron Lee had two rushing touchdowns in the fourth. The game had been memorable and exhausting.

And that was before Stabler found Casper deep.

Once the Raiders tied the game, anybody who thought the overtime period would be over quick was dead wrong. After combining for 45 points in the second half, neither team could score in the first overtime period, and the game went to a rare second overtime. The Raiders finally ended things 45 seconds into the second overtime period, as Stabler again found Casper for a touchdown.

The game is memorable for various reasons, including its length; it's the fourth-longest game in NFL history. As it turned out, it was also the last playoff game in Baltimore Colts history, as they wouldn't return to the postseason until after moving to Indianapolis. But the game stands out most of all for the pass that came at the end of regulation, when Ken Stabler found the Ghost to the Post.

It was hard to find a clip of the pass. It's buried at around the :50 mark of this clip that inexplicably has "Thriller" playing throughout. I believe a later shot in the clip shows the winning touchdown, but I can't say that for sure.

December 24, 1950: CLEVELAND - They had been dismissed as the champions of an inferior league. They had been underestimated, judged to be not nearly at the level of the powerful NFL teams. But the Cleveland Browns spent the 1950 season proving everybody wrong. In their first year in the NFL, the Browns beat the defending champion Eagles twice, made the playoffs, and advanced to the Championship Game. There, Lou "The Toe" Groza's 16-yard field goal with 20 seconds left gave the Browns a 30-28 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. The four-time defending champions of the AAFL had just won their fifth straight championship, this time against the supposedly superior NFL. There was no more dismissing the Browns.

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