Ghost to the Post

Posted Dec 24, 2015

Here on Christmas Eve as the Raiders get set to take on the Chargers tonight, take a look back at of one of the greatest games played in the history of any sport.

On Saturday, December 24, 1977, The Oakland Raiders and the then-Baltimore Colts collided in what would go down in history as one of the most exciting and memorable games in professional football. In an AFC Divisional Playoff game at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, the Raiders and the Colts slugged it out for nearly four hours. The contest would be decided in double-overtime, and would be forever remembered for one critical play – “The Ghost to the Post.”

The 1977 Raiders finished the regular season with an 11-3 record and were poised to defend their Super Bowl title after claiming the AFC Wild Card berth. The Colts finished 10-4 and were riding the crest of their third straight AFC Eastern Division title.

Colts QB Bert Jones threw for 2,686 yards, 17 TDs and 11 interceptions that season, while Raiders QB Kenny “The Snake” Stabler threw for 2,176 yards, 20 TDs and 20 interceptions. The Colts ground game was led by RB Lydell Mitchell who rushed for 1,159 yards and three touchdowns, while the Raiders leading rusher, Mark van Eeghen, ran for 1,273 yards and seven scores.

The coaching match-up featured Hall of Fame head coach John Madden for the Silver and Black and Ted Marchibroda for the Colts. Heading into the game, Madden said, “We have our work cut out for us. We have got to be solid. This tournament thing is so final, there is no tomorrow. It’s just one day, one game and that’s the way it has got to be.”

Marchibroda said, “I think we are as ready to play this one as we ever have been. It will be the type of game that will take a total team effort. They [Oakland] are the type of club that can beat you on offense, they can beat you on defense and they can beat you with their specialty teams. They are just an excellent football team in all aspects of the game. They do not have any weaknesses.”

Game-time temperature was 48 degrees, the skies were partly cloudy and the wind was out of the Southeast at seven miles per hour.

The Raiders won the opening coin toss and elected to receive. Colts K Toni Linhart kicked off at 12:35 p.m. For most of the first quarter, the defenses held firm.

Late in the first quarter, the Raiders began a drive at their own 40. Stabler came out firing and hit Biletnikoff for a 15-yard gain. Two van Eeghen runs gained 15 yards and moved the ball to the Baltimore 30. RB Clarence Davis then broke loose over left guard and bolted for the end zone scoring the game’s first touchdown. K Errol Mann’s extra point was good and the Raiders took a 7-0 lead with 30 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Raiders held the Colts to another three-and-out when DE Pat Toomay sacked Jones for a 5-yard loss on 3rd and 10. P David Lee’s 37-yard punt was downed at the Oakland 48. The Colts answered the Raiders score when defensive back Bruce Laird picked off a Stabler pass intended for van Eeghen and raced 61 yards for a touchdown. Linhart added the extra point and the game was tied at 7-7 with 13:19 left in the second quarter.

After Garrett returned the ensuing kickoff 31 yards to the Oakland 33, Stabler connected with Biletnikoff for a 13-yard gain and a first down. But, three plays later, the Colts defense forced a punt. Guy’s 48-yard kick landed in the end zone for a touchback. The Colts managed to move out to their own 49 before Johnson dropped Jones for a 15-yard sack on 3rd and 3, and the Colts were forced to punt. WR Morris Bradshaw fielded Lee’s 44-yard punt and the Raiders took over at their own 22.

Stabler went to the air on the second play of the drive and hooked up with WR Cliff Branch for a 25-yard strike and a first down to the Raiders 49. But, the drive stalled and Guy was called on to punt. Guy’s 49-yard punt landed in the end zone for a touchback and the Colts took over at their own 20.

Jones, Mitchell and Leaks got something going for Baltimore. Mixing the pass and the run, the Colts drove to the Raiders 17. LB Jeff Barnes dropped Leaks for a 2-yard loss on 2nd and 6, and safety Jack Tatum broke up a Jones pass in the end zone to force a field goal attempt. Linhart came on and capped the 12-play, 61-yard drive, with a 36-yard field goal and gave the Colts a 10-7 lead with 1:58 left in the second quarter.

The Raiders took over at their own 36 after Garrett returned the ensuing kickoff 30 yards. Stabler drove the Silver and Black to the Baltimore 23, but Davis fumbled and Baltimore DE John Dutton recovered. Two Mitchell runs ended the first half and the teams went to the locker room with the Colts on top 10-7.

Blackwood returned Guy’s opening kickoff of the second half 17 yards to the Baltimore 33. The Raiders defense forced a three-and-out and Lee came on to punt. After Neal Colzie fielded Lee’s 38-yard punt, the Raiders offense took over at their own 30. On 2nd and 9, Stabler went deep and connected with Branch for a 41-yard strike to the Colts 28. After two van Eeghen runs picked up 20 yards, Stabler dropped back and found TE Dave Casper in the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown pass. Mann’s extra point gave the Raiders a 14-10 lead with 11:15 left in the third quarter.

Just as the Raiders took the lead, the Colts responded. WR Marshall Johnson fielded the ensuing kickoff at the 13 and raced 87 yards for the go-ahead score. Linhart’s successful extra point gave the Colts a 17-14 lead with 10:59 left in the third quarter.

Garrett returned the ensuing kickoff 24 yards to the Oakland 33. Two plays later, Laird grabbed his second interception of the day and was tackled at the Raiders 40. The Colts were stymied as DT Otis Sistrunk deflected a pass, which was caught by Mitchell, and made the stop for a 3-yard loss. Sistrunk then sacked Jones for a loss of 8. Hall of Fame linebacker and former Colt Ted Hendricks blocked Lee’s punt and the Raiders took possession at the Colts 16 after LB Jeff Barnes scooped up the loose ball and rambled 13 yards.

Three plays later, Stabler hooked up with Casper again, this time for a 10-yard scoring pass, and the Raiders went ahead. Mann’s extra point gave the Silver and Black a 21-17 lead with 6:27 left in the third quarter.

CB Doug Nettles returned Guy’s ensuing kickoff 17 yards to the Baltimore 21. Jones drove the Colts to the Raiders 45 before the drive stalled. Hendricks sacked Jones for a 10-yard loss on 2nd and 1 to help force a punt. Lee’s 45-yard punt ended up in the end zone for a touchback. The Raiders drove to the Colts 37 before that possession sputtered. Guy took a delay of game penalty and drove a 42-yard punt into the end zone for a touchback.

Jones connected with WR Glenn Doughty for 20 yards and Mitchell for 21 to move the Colts into Raiders territory. RB Ron Lee, McCauley and Mitchell got the ground game going as Baltimore drove for the end zone. A pass interference call on CB Lester Hayes set the home team up with 1st and goal at the 1. The Raiders stuffed the first three attempts, but Lee was able to score on 4th and goal. Linhart’s extra point was good and the Colts reclaimed the lead, 24-21, with 10:28 left in the fourth quarter.

Garrett returned the ensuing kickoff 44 yards to the Oakland 48. On 3rd and 10, Stabler hooked up with van Eeghen for a 23-yard catch and run. The Raiders were quickly in scoring range when a pass interference call on Colts CB Nelson Munsey set the Silver and Black up with 1st and goal at the 1. FB Pete Banaszak cashed in from a yard out and the Raiders moved ahead. Mann’s extra point gave the Raiders a 28-24 lead with 9:12 left in the fourth quarter.

The see-saw battle continued as Baltimore took the ensuing kickoff and drove down the field with Lee capping off a 4-play, 73-yard drive with a 13-yard touchdown run. Linhart’s extra point gave the Colts a 31-28 lead with 7:54 left in the fourth quarter.

The teams traded punts on the next four possessions. With 2:55 left in the fourth quarter and trailing by three, Stabler and company took the field. “Snake” hooked up with Davis for 14 yards and a first down at the Oakland 44. After an incomplete pass, history was about to be written.

“We have a pass called ‘91 In,’ the two outside receivers ran ‘in’ patterns, and on that the tight end would run a post, which was kind of a clean out,” Coach Madden recalled. “He would go deep and clean out the middle and the two outside receivers would come to the inside. So [assistant coach] Tom Flores noticed when we would throw the ‘in’ that the safety was sneaking up. He said, ‘on 91 In, take a peek at Ghost to the Post.’”

With just over two minutes left to play, Stabler dropped back to throw, planted his back foot, pump faked, and let the ball fly with Dutton in his face. Casper looked up, saw the ball, looked down and adjusted his path, drifted to the right, craned his neck so he could look back for the ball and stretched out his hands. He split two defenders and made an unbelievable catch. The play gained 42 yards to the Colts 14-yard line.

“I don’t think I caught a pass on that play all year,” Casper said. “I did some maneuvers to set him up [Munsey], and I faked an out and went underneath him to the post and I had him going the wrong way and I was open. Because I was late, Snake had already thrown the ball, guessing where I was going to go. When I looked up over my shoulder, I took one look and said ‘the ball isn’t going where I’m going.’”

Casper’s heroics put the Raiders in position to tie the game. Three straight Banaszak runs put the Silver and Black on the Colts 5-yard line. Coach Madden called time out with 29 seconds on the clock. Mann came on and connected on a 22-yard field goal which tied the game at 31-31 with 26 seconds left.

Johnson returned Guy’s ensuing kickoff 22 yards to the 27. A pass to Lee and a Mitchell run ended the fourth quarter and the two combatants prepared for overtime.

The next score would decide the victor.

Baltimore won the coin toss and elected to receive. McCauley returned Guy’s kickoff 25 yards to the Colts 38. The Raiders defense forced a three-and-out. Colzie returned Lee’s punt to the Raiders 28. A 12-yard pass to Branch, and a 25-yard pass interference call against Laird set the Raiders up at the Baltimore 33. On 4th and 8 at the 31, Mann’s 48-yard field goal attempt was blocked by DT Mike Barnes. The Raiders and Colts defenses traded three-and-outs, with Oakland logging two, and Baltimore one.

After the second consecutive three-and-out for the Raiders defense, Colzie called for and made a fair catch of a 39-yard Lee punt at the Oakland 42. Stabler went to work with passes to Biletnikoff (9, 11 and 8 yards) and Branch (19 yards) to move the Raiders deep into Colts territory. A 5-yard Banaszak run over left tackle gave the Silver and Black a 1st and 10 at the Colts 13. That run also brought the first overtime period to a close.

At the start of the second overtime, Banaszak bulled his way for three yards, and then Stabler dropped back to throw for the 42nd time on the day, and tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Casper to give the Raiders a 37-31 double-overtime victory over the Baltimore Colts in the 1977 AFC Divisional Playoffs. The game took three hours and 50 minutes to complete.

Stabler completed 21 of 40 pass attempts for 345 yards and three scores – all three to Casper, who caught four passes for 70 yards. The Raiders defense held Lydell Mitchell to 67 yards on 23 carries, and Bert Jones to 164 yards on 12 of 26 passing. The Raiders sacked Jones six times for -50 yards on the day.

With the victory, the Raiders advanced to the AFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos, and added another phrase to the sports lexicon – Ghost to the Post.