Editor’s Note: Jim Reineking is an editor for NFL.com. Here’s his take on the Oakland Raiders and their partaking in some of the most crucial moments in NFL history.
“Immaculate Reception: A Football Life” debuts on NFL Network tonight at 8 p.m. ET.
There is no NFL team that has been a part of more signature moments than the Oakland Raiders, individual plays so colossal that a simple nickname sparks endless debate around events that have stood the test of time.
In the epic conclusion of this year’s season of “A Football Life,” the most famous play in NFL history gets further investigation 40 years after it occurred. Shrouded in myth, miracle and raging controversy, “The Immaculate Reception” is a fitting capper to this list of Raiders plays with names, each more monumental than the next.
5. “Ghost to the Post”
“Look for ‘Ghost’ to the post.” — John Madden.
Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler’s late-game high-arching heave to tight end Dave Casper — whose nickname “Ghost” was inspired by the cartoon “Casper the Friendly Ghost” — set up the game-tying field goal that sent a classic AFC divisional playoff showdown that featured seven lead changes into overtime. It took a second overtime to finally determine the winner in the fourth-longest game in NFL history. The pivotal post-pattern catch is one of two famous plays that the Hall of Fame tight end is most remembered.
4. “Sea of Hands”
“Clarence Davis couldn’t catch a cold, but he makes the big catch to win it in the last 30 seconds. It was probably the only catch he ever made in his career.” — Manny Fernandez, Miami Dolphins defensive tackle.
The Dolphins’ three-year reign as AFC champions came to a bitter end in a game — an AFC divisional playoff game held at the Oakland Coliseum — for the ages that many had dubbed “Super Bowl 8 1/2.” It took a desperate lob from Stabler to Davis in the game’s final minute to finally fell the two-time defending Super Bowl champions. Davis’ catch was remarkable in that the running back managed to snag the reception despite being draped by three Dolphins defenders. The “Super Bowl 8 1/2” winner was defeated the following week by the Pittsburgh Steelers, who went on to win Super Bowl IX for the team’s first championship.
3. “Holy Roller”
“Madden is on the field. He wants to know if it’s real. They said ‘yes, get your big butt out of here!’ He does!” — Bill King’s radio call of the play.
In an early season matchup with the division-rival San Diego Chargers, the Raiders trailed 20-14 and possessed the ball at the Chargers’ 14-yard line with 10 seconds left in the game. What followed was absolute madness. As he was about to be sacked, Stabler flipped the ball forward. Raiders running back Pete Banaszak then batted the loose football toward the end zone, where Casper stumbled awkwardly onto the ball for the winning touchdown. The wild play spawned the greatest sports radio call in recorded history (and a rule change).
2. “Tuck Rule”
“Maybe we would have won the Super Bowl. It’s not like we were chopped liver going out there (to Foxboro).” — Jon Gruden, head coach of the Oakland Raiders.
Hidden in the wilderness that is the NFL rulebook is NFL Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2. This rule was a virtual unknown among football fans entering the snowy evening of Jan. 19, 2002 at Foxboro Stadium. When the night was done, the controversial game-changing rule became the moniker for one of the most important playoff games in NFL history. The rule helped spoil one team’s Super Bowl hopes, while simultaneously opening the door for the New England Patriots to become an NFL dynasty.
1. “Immaculate Reception”
“If we’d have had instant replay in the ’70s, we would have probably been in 10 Super Bowls.” — Al Davis.
Like the “Tuck Rule” 30 years later, the “Immaculate Reception” helped spawn a dynasty. Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris’ catch of a Terry Bradshaw pass originally intended for Frenchy Fuqua, which was knocked away in a collision with the Raiders’ Jack Tatum, was the winning score in a 13-7 Steelers victory. It was the Steelers’ first-ever playoff win after nearly four decades of existence.
Debate raged over the mystery play for decades over the hit placed by Tatum on Fuqua, the force of which propelled Bradshaw’s pass into Harris’ outreached hands. Did Fuqua and Harris touch the pass in succession (which would have been illegal at the time)? The fact that a definitive view of the action does not exist only adds to the mythology of what is arguably the most famous moment in NFL history.
This is just one modest man’s list. What’s yours?