The Most Memorable Christmas Eve Game in NFL History Led to the Infamous ‘Ghost in the Post’ Play

The NFL’s Christmas Eve schedule is packed this year. It’s a day that often has exactly zero NFL games because the holiday is not always the best time for televised sports. Even so, when the schedule pushed games into that space, magical things happened — like the famous “Ghost to the Post” play.

That 1977 contest between the then-Oakland Raiders and then-Baltimore Colts became instantly iconic. It’s a huge part of the ongoing story of the team and their immortal head coach John Madden. Read on to learn about the events of that game and how its legacy looms over a big day of Christmas Eve games in 2022.

The NFL schedule irregularly leads to many Christmas Eve games

There are plenty of NFL games airing on Christmas Eve this year. However, the holiday wasn’t always a go-to for a stacked NFL schedule. According to the American Football Wiki, the league usually avoided the day. The thinking was families would be too busy celebrating to tune into football games. 

Christmas Eve games usually came when the one-two punch of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day proper made it difficult to reschedule key games on Monday, Thursday, or Sunday. These Christmas Eve games are usually played in the afternoon out of deference to the common tradition of family gatherings during the evening on December 24.

This year is somewhat different. The schedule is packed to the gills, Yahoo! Sports reports. Most of it is slanted toward the evening. But this time around, there will be an evening game.

That special slot, with a late after-dinner timing, happens to be reserved for the Las Vegas Raiders. It’s likely that this designation is because of the special history this team has in the Christmas Eve spot — a history that goes back to 1977.

Offensive tackle Art Shell of the Oakland Raiders in action as Ken Novak of the Baltimore Colts sacks quarterback Ken Stabler on Christmas Eve in 1977
Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler is sacked by the Colts’ Ken Novak as Raiders tackle Art Shell watches on Christmas Eve in 1977 | Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The famous ‘Ghost to the Post’ play happened during a Christmas Eve game

Christmas Eve, 1977, was a key day in NFL history. A single play became instantly iconic, an indelible part of the history of NFL holiday games. To this day, the Raiders regularly honor and remember what was quickly titled the Ghost to the Post play. This happened to be amid Madden’s final postseason win.

The game was a legendary back-and-forth fight from start to finish. It was close as the end of regulation neared, with the Raiders a mere field goal away from tying the game. In the final seconds, Stabler hit an improbable pass on a deep post pattern for a 42-yard completion, the American Football Database reports.

Field goal range obtained. Game tied. The unbelievable moment earned a round of overtime and set up the team’s eventual victory over the Colts.

The ‘Ghost in the Post’ play wasn’t the only notable aspect of this Christmas Eve competition

The actual Ghost to the Post play was the most exciting and notable moment from the 1977 classic. But many more notable moving parts at play truly elevated it to something special.

Stabler and Casper had another key play: the 10-yard touchdown that sealed the deal for the Raiders at the end of the second overtime period. Speaking of overtime, this was a long one: the fourth-longest game in NFL history.

Oakland Raiders coach John Madden exuberantly talks to reporters after defeating the Colts in the infamous "Ghost in the Post" game on Christmas Eve
Raiders coach John Madden talks to reporters after defeating the Colts on Christmas Eve | Bettmann/Contributor
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Madden wrapped his legendary list of postseason wins with this last victory. The Colts had their own goodbye, as this was their final playoff game as a Baltimore team. The Ghost to the Post moment was more than a single spectacular play. It was, in a sense, the last hurrah for a key phase of NFL history.