NFL

Ken Stabler Changed the NFL Forever With the Holy Roller Game of 1978

One of the most notorious plays took place during the “Holy Roller Game” in 1978 by the then-Oakland Raiders. Just a few years before they briefly moved to LA, they were the hottest NFL team. On September 10, 1978, the team faced the Chargers. And one touchdown by the Raiders’ Ken Stabler shocked everyone. Even the announcer could hardly believe his eyes.

To this day, football analysts think the play was not really legal. The NFL had to change the rules because of it. Here’s what happened.

How did the Holy Roller Game go down?

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When the Raiders played the Chargers, former were up against one of their most formidable opponents. Games between them were close, and this one was no exception. As a result, the Raiders had to strategize on how to get one touchdown before the clock ran out on that fateful September 10 night.

While quarterback Ken Stabler attempted to pass the ball on the 14-yard line, he was blocked by linebacker Woodrow Lowe. Stabler, unable to pass to anyone, fumbled the ball, only to have the ball knocked further by Raider Pete Banaszak. With the ball near the end zone, Dave Casper gave the ball a kick, then fell on it.

Based on this play, the referee called it a touchdown, reports USA Today, helping the Raiders win by one point. Charger fans erupted in protest while Raiders fans had their jaws hit the ground.

The radio announcer at the time, Bill King said this: “The ball, flipped forward, is loose! A wild scramble, two seconds on the clock, Casper grabbing the ball—it is ruled a fumble! Casper has recovered in the end zone! The Oakland Raiders have scored on the zaniest, absolutely impossible dream of a play”! However, the NFL took the play seriously and started to question whether such a move should ever be allowed again.

NFL rule changes never prevented the same attempt again

Ken Stabler of the Oakland Raiders in 1978
Ken Stabler of the Oakland Raiders in 1978 | Robert Riger/Getty Images

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Stabler reanalyzed his own play for NFL Films years back and admitted he threw the ball forward rather than really make it a fumble details Fan Buzz. This admittance might make Raiders fans question the real legality of the play.

Regardless, the NFL changed the ruling on that the following season. They said only the offensive player initially fumbling the ball could advance the ball to the end zone.

Despite the controversy, the referee who made the initial call, Jerry Markbreit, still determines it a real fumble, according to The San Diego Union Tribune. His definition goes by what he saw Stabler do. Said Markbreit: “The ball was kicked, batted, muffed and I guess 30 yards later it wound up in the end zone and my wing guys signaled touchdown, and I turned and signaled touchdown”.

Players continue to try to mimic similar plays, if hardly getting away it. Yet, it was Ken Stabler who will always go down as the player who created a type of play most players only wish to have.

Ken Stabler’s career had another legendary touchdown

When Ken Stabler died in 2015, reports Fox Sports, tributes poured in from sports writers noting his accomplishments. Beyond the Holy Roller play, he was also known for his “Sea of Hands” maneuver where he threw a successful pass after falling. This occurred four years earlier during a playoff game with the Miami Dolphins in 1974.

He played with the Oakland Raiders from 1970-79, then Houston Oilers from 1980-81. He finished out his time in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints from 1982-84.

Those later years will never match up with the magic he accomplished with the Raiders, though. Through the legendary plays he made, he was clearly playing football like a chess match.