Tight end Dave Casper caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Ken Stabler 43 seconds into the second overtime period today to give the defending world champion Oakland Raiders a 37-31 victory over the Baltimore Colts, advancing the Raiders into the AFC championship final for the fifth straight year.
Casper caught two earlier touchdown passes from Stabler and made an incredible shoulder over-the-shoulder catch for 42 yards to set up Erroll Mann's 22-yard field goal with 26 seconds left in regulation play to send the game into overtime.
"I knew we were destined to win when he made that catch," said Oakland guard Gene Upshaw. "Say Hey, Casper. Damn, that man can catch the ball . . . puts Willie Mays to shame.
"If I was a quarterback, I wouldn't throw to anybody else in the end zone. Never. Casper don't miss nothing."
Oakland started the drive to its winning score on their 42, following a Baltimore punt.
The play that breathed life into the drive when it was about to die, was a 19-yard pass from Stabler to Cliff Branch on a third- and-10 situation from the Baltimore 45.
Branch made a diving catch on an "in pattern" over the middle to keep the drive going at the 26.
Four plays later, on second and seven from the 10, Stabler faked a handoff to Pete Banaszak, who then lofted a perfect pass to Casper in the deep left corner of the end zone. Casper had beaten Nelson Munsey by three steps, and the third longest professional football game was over.
Most of the capacity crowd of 60,763 at Memorial Stadium sat stunned. The Colts had lost in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight time.
The touchdown play "was a regular run to the corner as quick as you can," said Casper. "They (the Colts) were looking for the run and the cornerback didn't really have a chance."
"The play came from the bench (the coaches)," said Stabler. He was 21 of 40 for 345 yards passing, compared to Bert Jones, 12-24 - 164 yards production. "It's a safe play. If they don't go for the fake, you just throw the ball away."
Raider coach John Madden said, "The play came on second down. I'm sure not one guy on their defense thought we'd throw then.
"If we don't get it then, we run on third down and then kick the field goal if we have to. If you are going to pass, second down is the time to do it down there."
The lead changed sides nine times in one of those games that Casper called "frustrating because everytime you score, you knew the other team was going to come back."
But the Colts suddenly abandoned their wide open play once they got a 31-28 lead on a 13-yard run by Ron Lee with 7:54 to play in regulation.
The Colts got only one first down in the game's final 23 minutes 37 seconds. They did not complete a pass to gain more than five yards on any play after Lee's touchdown.
"I guess they wanted to be safe," said Oakland defensive end Otis Sistrunk. "They paid for it, too."
The Raiders' drive to Mann's game-tying 22-yard field goal started at their 30 with 2:55 to play.
Faced with a second and 10 from his 44, Stabler called a post pattern to Casper. Stabler pump-faked short, then let it fly long. Casper ran under the ball, beating Munsey and Tim Baylor, making the catch over his head while leaning back. (See RAIDERS, F7, Col. 1>
"I got held up at the line and so I was late getting into the pattern," Casper said. "It was a post pattern, but it was thrown to the corner, so I just ducked my head and went after it."
Casper was brought down at the Baltimore 14 with 1:58 left. Four plays later the Raiders had a fourth and inches from the six.
They ran the clock down as far as they could without getting a penalty and called time-out before Madden sent Mann in for the field goal.
"The easiest thing to do is to say go for it in that situation," said Madden. "But you can't get caught up in emotion and that stuff. You have to do what you know is right, and what was right was to kick the field goal, tie the game up and start all over."
The Raiders took a 7-0 lead on a 30-yard run by Clarence Davis in the first quarter. Oakland tackle Art Shell and Upshaw appeared to knock down every Colt in sight on the run.
Baltimore got that one back in the second period. Bruce Laird stepped in front of Mark van Eeghen to pick off a Stabler pass and race 61 yards for a touchdown.
Toni Linhart's 36-yard field goal with 1:58 left in the half gave Baltimore a 10-7 lead.
Then the fireworks started.
Stabler took the Raiders 70 yards in five plays on their first possession after intermission. The score came on an eight-yard pass over the middle to Casper.
Marshall Johnson took Ray Guy's ensuing kickoff and high-stepped 87 yards to put the Colts back on top, 17-14.
But the Raiders went back ahead, 21-17, midway through the third period on a 10-yard Stabler-to-Casper pass after Jeff Barnes blocked a David Lee punt, giving Oakland the ball at the Colt's 16.
Baltimore put together an 80-yard, 13-play drive early in the final period to regain the lead, 24-21. The touchdown came on a one-yard run by Lee.
The Raiders came right back on their next possession and scored on a one-yard Benaszik run.
That drive was aided by a 28-yard pass-interference penalty against Munsey, on Branch in the end zone. It put the ball at the Colt one-yard line.
Mann's conversion after Banaszak's touchdown made it 28-24 Oakland, with 9:12 to play.
But once again the Colts came back. Jones threw 30 yards to Raymond Chester on first down, then 16 yards to Lee on second, before Lee ran for 14 and then the final 13 for the touchdown to give Baltimore its last lead of the day.
The Raider's three-man defensive line, led by John Matuszak, gave the Colts trouble all day. Jones was sacked six times for 50 yards in losses and had to scramble for his life on six other possessions. Linbacker Monte Johnson had two of the sacks and 15 unassisted tackles.
"Most ends rush to the inside on Bert and he rolls outside of them," Sistrunk said, "so we kept our ends outside, so he couldn't roll. And when Bert can't roll, the Colts don't rock."