December 3, 1979
|QB Kenny Stabler turned the game around in the second half to lead the Raiders to a come-from-behind victory.|
The city of New Orleans was at its very liveliest when the Raiders invaded Louisiana to tangle with the Saints on December 3, 1979. The Saints, under head coach Dick Nolan, were 7-6-0, leading the NFC West with a chance for the very first winning season in the history of the franchise. A spot in the playoffs was also possible for the New Orleans NFL entry.
The Raiders, led by first-year head coach Tom Flores, were 7-6-0 going into New Orleans, battling to make the playoffs and finish with a winning season for the 15th consecutive year.
A sellout crowd of 71,323 awaited the visiting Raiders, along with a huge national television audience estimated at over 40,000,000. This was Monday Night Football and the Raiders were the class of this prime-time series, with a record of 12-1-1. The Raiders had won their last eight Monday nighters, including a 13-3 victory against the Miami Dolphins early in the 1979 season.
The Raiders opened the game’s scoring avalanche late in the first quarter, patiently driving 78 yards in 15 plays featuring the running of Mark Van Eeghen and Arthur Whittington. The touchdown came on a second-and-goal from the New Orleans three as southpaw QB Kenny Stabler threw right to TE Raymond Chester. Chester, an intense, dedicated veteran, had been operated on to repair a knee injury just 22 days earlier. The Saints responded, however, coming down the field after the kickoff to move 89 yards in 13 plays to tie the score at 7-7 early in the second quarter.
WR Cliff Branch bursts toward the end zone en route to a 66-yard fourth quarter touchdown.
On the next Raiders possession a tipped pass was picked off by New Orleans CB Eric Felton, who returned the interception 53 yards to the Oakland 19. Three plays later, Saints QB Archie Manning passed 17 yards up the middle to RB Tony Galbreath to put the home team ahead, 14-7, in the second quarter.
On their next possession, the Saints marched 68 yards in eight plays to go up by 14 points, 21-7, with the score coming on a one-yard dive over the top by Chuck Muncie.
|RB Arthur Whittington played a key role in the Raiders offense against the Saints.|
A few plays later New Orleans DT Elex Prive recovered a Stabler fumble to give the Saints possession and position on the Raiders 28. Just one play and eight seconds later the Saints had opened a 21-point lead as Manning found TE Henry Childs open down the seam for a 28-yard touchdown catch.
But the resilient Raiders bounced right back. After a 27-yard kickoff return by Larry Brunson, Stabler took charge on his own 30. Three consecutive completions to RB Mark Van Eeghen, TE Dave Casper and Whittington inched the ball towards the goal line. A sack slowed the drive but a pass interference call put the Raiders on the Saints one-yard line with four seconds left in the half. Whittington swept right for the touchdown and the Raiders trailed at halftime, 28-14.
The Saints had gained an impressive 212 yards in the first half and 14 first downs. The second half would be much different.
The ABC-TV trio of Frank Gifford, Don Meredith and Howard Cosell made fun of the Raiders at halftime, singling out Stabler as their principal target. A near-interception by Stabler ended the Raiders first possession in the third quarter, adding to the derisive comments. Then, to make matters much worse, Stabler had a pass tipped and then intercepted by New Orleans LB Ken Bordelon who returned it for a touchdown of 19 yards at the 6:24 mark in the third quarter to put the Saints ahead 35-14. Attempting to tackle the 230-pound Bordelon, Stabler got knocked woozy as well.
Raiders head coach Tom Flores, never one to panic, prepared reserve QB Jim Plunkett to enter the game after the Saints kickoff. But Stabler ran on the field, telling Flores “I got us in this mess and it’s my job to get us out.”
The dynamic Stabler now faced a fired-up Saints’ defense and a wild, hostile crowd in the noisy Louisiana Superdome. But carefully schooled to handle challenge and adversity by college coach Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama and by Raiders head coaches John Madden and now Tom Flores, Stabler bent to his task with pride and poise, conviction and courage.
|TE Raymond Chester makes a catch.|
In the next drive, Stabler completed five passes, with three going to Casper. Van Eeghen powered over the right side for one yard and a touchdown to make the score at the end of the third quarter, New Orleans Saints 35 – Oakland Raiders 21.
The Raiders had the ball on their own 35 to start the fourth quarter. Using runs by Whittington and Booker Russell, the Silver and Black moved the chains. A pass to speedster Cliff Branch took Oakland to the Saints 17, where Stabler hit a wide-open TE Derrick Ramsey in the right side of the end zone to close the gap to seven points. Saints 35 – Raiders 28. Stabler had now thrown his 150th touchdown pass as a Raider.
Tenacious S Mike Davis broke up two pass plays on the next Saints series to force the punt. The Raiders could not move either, but their defense limited the New Orleans offense to just one first down in their next two possessions.
With 4:13 left in the game the Raiders took over on their own 33. One run gained only one yard. Then, on a second-and-nine, Stabler calmly picked out Branch breaking to the left sideline short. Branch took the pass in stride, turned upfield, got a crushing, clearing peelback block from Whittington, and sped down the sideline untouched. Sixty-six yards later, with Branch mobbed by his Oakland teammates in the New Orleans end zone, the score was tied at 35-all.
In the ABC television booth, the Monday night trio was now nearly tongue-tied. Praise of “courageous Ken Stabler” and the “indefatigable Oakland Raiders” now filled the airwaves. Millions of viewers around the country opened another brew and pulled their chairs close to their sets. You could cut the tension with a knife as the silence settled like a sigh in the once-noisy Superdome. Doom and gloom had rapidly replaced the Mardi Gras spirit.
RB Mark van Eeghen scores from one-yard out during a third quarter play.
The Saints opened on their own 32 with Galbreath slashing through for nine big yards. Then, on second-and-one, Muncie swept left, but an aggressive, swarming defense separated the big back from the football. Davis scooped up the fumble on the 39, returned it 19 yards to the Saints 20, then lateralled to LB Ted Hendricks who went for seven more to the New Orleans 13-yard line.
Whittington and Van Eeghen went right for short yardage, bringing up a third-and-five on the Saints eight with two minutes left in the game. On the sideline, Coach Flores told Stabler to forget the field goal and to go for the touchdown. After the game resumed, Stabler took advantage of rock-solid pass protection from the Raiders front wall of Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Dave Dalby, Steve Sylvester and Henry Lawrence, to pick out Branch hooking down on the two. Branch took the short strike and backed his way into the end zone to give the Raiders a 42-35 lead with just 1:54 remaining to play.
TE Derrick Ramsey hauls in the first of three fourth quarter touchdowns.
LB Jeff Barnes made the tackle on the kickoff return and the Saints put the ball in play on their own 31. But a determined defense, spearheaded by CB Lester Hayes, LB Monte Johnson and a nasty swarm in Silver and Black, snuffed out any New Orleans hopes. These proud Raiders had not come back from 21 points down on the road to yield anything at that point.
On fourth-and-13 for the Saints, a sack of Manning by rookie DE Willie Jones brought the drama to a decisive close. The Raiders, bruised and battered, had again come off the floor to produce a victory against monumental odds. Another classic comeback was now added to the growing legend of the unique Raiders organization. “We’ve been there before,” commented Stabler after the game. “We’ve been in these so-called impossible situations in the past. We have a lot of experience at it.”