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Greatest Moments: 1980 AFC Championship

Posted Jan 11, 2014

An early scoring outburst and ball control late in the game vault the Raiders to a 34-27 win over the San Diego Chargers in the 1980 AFC Championship game.


The Raiders stream onto the field after securing a berth in Super Bowl XV with a win over San Diego in the AFC Championship game. AP Photo.

The 1980 Oakland Raiders became the first Wild Card team in NFL history to win a Super Bowl. The journey was not without obstacles and the final AFC hurdle presented itself in the form of the San Diego Chargers. After clobbering the Houston Oilers 27-7 in Oakland in the Wild Card round, and hanging on for dear life in the freezing cold to defeat Cleveland 14-12 in an AFC Divisional Playoff game, the Raiders went to San Diego to face a Chargers team that was standing in the way of a trip to New Orleans and a berth in Super Bowl XV.

The Chargers finished the 1980 season 11-5 and won the AFC West. After a bye week, they defeated the Buffalo Bills in San Diego and prepared for the Raiders. The 11-5 Raiders and the Chargers split the season series with each team winning at home.

The two long-time rivals met at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego on a windy, 67-degree day at 2:00 p.m. The Raiders wasted no time in getting their Super Bowl party started early as QB Jim Plunkett somehow connected with TE Raymond Chester on a pass intended for RB Kenny King for a 65-yard touchdown on the game’s third play from scrimmage. K Chris Bahr added the extra point and the Silver and Black took a 7-0 lead with 13:25 left in the first quarter.

QB Dan Fouts and the Chargers were thwarted by a CB Lester Hayes interception on their opening possession and the Raiders took over at their 25. Hayes had intercepted 13 passes during the regular season and continued his remarkable campaign in the playoffs.

The Raiders were unable to capitalize and P Ray Guy punted the ball back to the Chargers. Fouts, who threw for 4,715 yards and 30 touchdowns while directing the NFL’s top-ranked offense, wasted little time on this possession. Fouts hooked up with WR Charlie Joiner for 48 yards and a touchdown. K Rolf Benirschke’s extra point was good and the game was tied at 7-7 with 7:56 left in the first quarter.

Plunkett, who threw for 2,299 yards and 18 TDs after taking over the starting duties for the injured Dan Pastorini, would finish the next drive with his feet. Aided by a 48-yard pass to WR Cliff Branch and a pass interference call, the Raiders were poised to regain the lead. Plunkett capped a 7-play, 76-yard drive with a 5-yard scramble for a touchdown. Bahr’s extra point gave the Raiders a 14-7 lead with 3:46 left in the first quarter.


The Raiders pounce on a Mike Thomas fumble setting up a Mark van Eeghen touchdown run. AP Photo.

The Raiders defense forced a three-and-put and P Rick Partridge’s 41-yard punt was returned 14 yards by Ira Matthews to the San Diego 49. Four plays later, Plunkett found King for a 21-yard scoring strike, and after Bahr’s extra point, the Silver and Black extended the lead to 21-7 with 1:35 left in the first quarter.

Burgess Owens’ interception of a Fouts pass intended for WR John Jefferson ended the next San Diego drive but the Raiders were unable to capitalize and Guy punted the ball back to the home team.

LB Ted Hendricks pounced on a RB Mike Thomas fumble at the San Diego 29 and the Raiders were back in business. RB Mark van Eeghen’s 3-yard touchdown run capped a 7-play, 29-yard drive and Bahr’s extra point made it 28-7 Raiders with 6:26 left in the second quarter.


RB Mark van Eeghen ran for 85 yards on 20 carries and scored on this 3-yard touchdown run. AP Photo.

San Diego would answer as Fouts tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to WR Charlie Joiner to culminate a 13-play, 64-yard drive. The extra point was good and the Raiders led 28-14 with 1:05 left in the first half.

The Raiders went three and out and after a 16-yard pass to Jefferson, three incomplete Fouts passes ended the first half.

The Chargers continued to chip away at the lead as Benirschke booted a 26-yard field goal to cap a 12-play, 68-yard drive to start the third quarter.

Leading 28-17, the Raiders were unable to move the ball on their first possession of the second half and punting the ball back to the suddenly hot Chargers. RB Chuck Muncie finished off a 6-play, 41-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown run, and after the extra point, the Raiders lead was trimmed to 4.

The Raiders answered as Bahr’s 27-yard field goal capped off a 9-play, 68-yard drive to give the visitors a 31-24 lead with 49 seconds left in the third quarter. After a three-and-out, Bahr struck again, this time from 33 yards out, and the Raiders led 34-24 with 9:46 left to play.

San Diego marched 72 yards but had to settle for a Benirschke 27-yard field goal to cut the lead to 34-27 with 6:52 left in the game, but the Chargers wouldn’t touch the ball again.

Plunkett, van Eeghen, King, Arthur Whittington and Derrick Jensen played keep-away for 15 plays (14 runs, one pass) and 6 minutes and 43 seconds. Plunkett took a knee on the final two plays of the game to secure the win and a trip to Super Bowl XV and a date with the Philadelphia Eagles.

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