As the football season kicked off, for the first time since 1994 the City of Oakland, California, is without an NFL team as the Raiders officially made their debut on Sunday as the Las Vegas Raiders. Another era of Oakland Raiders Football has tragically come to an end as the team abandoned Oakland and the loyal fans of the Raider Nation for the second time in franchise history.
While the Raiders also played in Los Angeles for 12 years between 1982-1994, most of the renowned, celebrated moments in the franchise’s history took place during their two stints as the Oakland Raiders between 1960-1981 and 1995-2020. From late game heroics, to some of the game’s most bizarre plays, to controversies that forever altered football’s landscape; here are the top five greatest moments, preceded by the two most infamous moments, in the history of the Oakland Raiders, forever known by their nicknames.
Infamous Oakland Raiders Moments
December 23, 1972: The Immaculate Reception
In the 1972 AFC Divisional Playoffs against the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the most consequential plays in NFL history happened on just a single tip, but not a tip in the Raiders favor. The Steelers were down 7-6 and in an unfavorable fourth-and-10 situation at their own 40 while the Raiders were just 22 seconds away from punching their ticket to the AFC Championship game. On a pass down the middle from legendary quarterback Terry Bradshaw to to John “Frenchy” Fuqua the ball ricocheted off Fuqua on a hard hit from Raiders safety Jack Tatum only to be scooped up just a split second before hitting the ground by Steelers fullback Franco Harris, who dashed by several Raiders defenders in the blink of an eye to the endzone. The rule at the time was that a ball could not bounce off a player from the same team and be touched by another player. It remains unclear to this day whether or not the ball touched Fuqua. Subsequently, the Steelers would go on to win their first of four Super Bowls in the 1970’s, making them the most talked about team of the era. Would the Raiders have been the team of the 70’s had Franco Harris not caught the Immaculate Reception? This question remains as one of the biggest “what ifs” in sports today.
January 19, 2002: The Tuck Rule
Joining the Immaculate Reception on the list of biggest sports “what ifs” is another highly controversial playoff call, this one accelerating the next several years of each teams’ fates. In a divisional playoff game against the New England Patriots, the Raiders were piled in Foxborough, Massachusetts, snow. They led 13-10 and were just 1:50 away from escaping the vile New England cold and move on to the AFC Championship. Raiders legendary cornerback Charles Woodson came in on a corner blitz and hit Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who was making his first career playoff start, from behind. The ball popped out for a fumble recovered by the Raiders defense. The Raiders win the game! Even the Patriots thought it was a fumble in the moment. Except that Rule 3 Section 22, Article 2, also known as the Tuck Rule, said otherwise. This rule, which was abolished in 2013, stated that any play where the quarterback’s hand moves forward, even if the quarterback is simply tucking the ball and not passing, which Brady was doing, is to be ruled an incomplete pass. The call’s reversal gave the Patriots a second life and their ability to capitalize by tying and and winning the game on a field goal piloted them to their first Super Bowl win a few weeks later and the start of the Brady/Bill Belichick dynasty. The call was also consequential for the Raiders, as this loss was the start to the team’s unprecedented 21st century downfall. After the loss, the Raiders traded away head coach Jon Gruden only to face his new team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl the following year, a game in which the Raiders got annihilated. Following that Super Bowl loss, the Raiders would not see a winning season for the next 13 years. What if the play was ruled a fumble? Would the Raiders have actually gone on to win the Super Bowl? Would the Raiders have kept Gruden and had a winning decade? Would Brady have emerged as a star? Would the Patriots dynasty have happened?
Top Five Moments
5. November 17, 1968: The Heidi Game
Two of the best teams in the NFL battled it out in a year where the NFL was just starting to become a popular TV destination for American audiences. The game was a highly touted AFC bout between the Raiders and Joe Namath’s New York Jets that saw six lead changes. The Jets went up 32-29 on a field goal with 1:05 left, still time for a Raiders comeback. NBC, who was broadcasting the game, had scheduled to air the premiere of the movie “Heidi” at 7:00 regardless of the state of the game. At 7:00, with the Raiders marching down the field, NBC did just that, leaving thousands of viewers with the exception of those on the west coast in a state of uncertainty about the game’s ending. The Raiders went on to make a miraculous comeback, putting up two scores nine seconds apart to beat the Jets by 11 points. This classic show put on by the Silver and Black was robbed of the TV spotlight by NBC instead showing Shirley Temple’s performance as an eight year old orphaned girl. The game forever altered the landscape of not only football but television. From then on NBC had Heidi phones so all network personnel could effectively communicate while on air. This game resulted in the mandate that all future NFL games were to be broadcast in their entirety.
4. December 24, 1997: The Ghost to the Post
In front of the largest crowd in Baltimore Colts history at Memorial Stadium, the Raiders and Colts faced off in an AFC Divisional Playoff matchup. Down 31-28 with 2:17 left on the clock and the Raiders pinned back in their zone, bomb throwing hall of fame quarterback Ken “The Snake” Stabler launched a vertical pass to hall of fame tight end Dave “The Ghost” Casper, nicknamed after “Casper the Friendly Ghost.” Casper, who was running a post route, reached out to make an unbelievable over-the-shoulder catch that set up a game-tying field goal to send the game to a historic double overtime. 43 seconds into the second overtime, Stabler found none other than Casper again for another over-the-shoulder catch, this one in the end zone for a 37-31 Raiders victory that sent them to the AFC Championship. This was the fifth longest game in NFL history, adding to a plethora of memorable Raider moments from the 1970’s.
3. January 4, 1981: Red Right 88
In the brutal four degree Fahrenheit arctic of Cleveland, Ohio, the Raiders defense kept their cool against the Cleveland Browns in an AFC Divisional Playoff game. However, both teams struggled to get anything going offensively with the unkind icy conditions causing a total of eight fumbles and only 27 completions in the entire game. The Raiders took a mere 14-12 lead in the fourth quarter. With 2:22 left in the game, Cleveland marched the ball down the field and got to the Raiders 28 yard line, where all they needed to do was kick a field goal to win the game. The situation was looking grim for the Raiders. However, with unfavorable kicking conditions and a kicker who had missed two field goals in the game, Cleveland Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano decided to go for it, calling the pass play “Red Slot Right, Halfback Stay 88”. Browns quarterback Brian Sipe shocked everyone when he went for the home run on a perilous pass to the end zone that got picked off and was somehow held onto in the cold by one of the most unlikely names, Raiders safety Mike Davis.
“I could not believe Mike Davis actually caught the ball because I’m telling you, he had absolutely the worst hands in that secondary,” said Raiders legend Gene Upshaw in the America’s Game episode documenting the 1980-81 Raiders season.
The Raiders would go on to win their second Super Bowl a few weeks later, making this play especially vital in the team’s history. Consequently for the Browns, it would go down as one of the many infamous curses in their franchise and city’s history, as the Browns are still yet to win or even appear in a Super Bowl.
2. December 21, 1974: The Sea of Hands
As if the 1970’s did not already feature enough historic playoff finishes for the Raiders, another came against the back-to-back Super Bowl Champion Miami Dolphins, perhaps the greatest team in NFL history. The Raiders had already given Don Shula’s Dolphins trouble the previous year when they ended Miami’s 18-game winning streak, one that would stand as a record for several decades. This time the Raiders had a chance to dethrone them as champions in front of a sellout Oakland Coliseum crowd. In another back-and-forth game, the Raiders found themselves down 26-21 at the two minute warning, needing a touchdown to win. Field general quarterback Ken “The Snake” Stabler marched the team down the field to the Dolphins eight yard line. On a first and goal, Stabler dropped back, looked, could not find an open receiver and scrambled forward until he got hit from behind by defensive end Vern Den Herder. As Stabler was falling straight down like a hammer, he released the ball into the end zone to a sea of several players’ hands that shot up in unison. That sea included three Dolphins players and just one Raider. That one Raider was running back Clarence Davis, who managed to haul the ball in despite being covered by several white jerseys, and end the Dolphins championship reign while also advancing the Raiders to the AFC Championship.
1. October 9, 2011: 10 Men On The Field
On Saturday, October 8, 2011, the face of the Raiders franchise, owner Al Davis, passed away at the age of 82. The Raiders had a game to play the next day against the Houston Texans. The team knew they needed to play in their late great leader’s honor by following the team’s slogan, a Commitment to Excellence. Anything less would be unacceptable. The Raiders fell behind early, but head coach Hugh Jackson knew he had to commit to making bold, risky plays, as Davis would have wanted them to do. The autumn wind gradually began to blow in the Raiders direction as their offense exploded for big scoring plays, as did their kicker Sebastian Janikowski, whom Davis unusually drafted in the first round. With seven seconds left and the Raiders ahead 25-20, the Texans had a chance to win the game with the ball at the Raiders five yard line. For the game’s last play, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub rolled out left as he was pressured in the pocket. Initially looking like he was going to run for the touchdown, Schaub lobbed one into the endzone that was picked off by Raiders defensive back Michael Huff to win the game. The team only had 10 players on the field on that last play, the 11th being Al Davis in spirit. Just win baby! That was the other big slogan of Al Davis, and was just what the Raiders did. It wasn’t pretty but they won. The Raiders wrote quite the Hollywood script that Sunday. Suffice it to say, this Hollywood script could easily give “Heidi” a run for its money.
September 10, 1978: The Holy Roller
While it seemed like the Raiders alway came out on the wrong end of controversial calls, one that went the Raiders way happened against their rivals, the San Diego Chargers. Stabler fumbled a ball late in the game. However, the ball rolled forward and bounced off a couple of Raiders before a Raider recovered the funky, rolling piece of pigskin in the endzone to somehow win the game on their own fumble. What made this play especially memorable was the call by Raiders legendary radio broadcaster Bill King whose victory commentary could be heard as, “Madden is on the field. He wants to know if it’s real. They said yes, get your big butt outta here, he does!”
December 24, 2015: Charles Woodson’s Last Game
Twas the night before Christmas, with all in the Coliseum, a Raiders/Chargers rivalry was booming, as the Raider Nation gathered to see ‘em. And out onto the field, jogged the veteran Charles Woodson. Capping off a legendary career, for 54,000.
Super Bowls XI and XV
The list would not be complete without a mention of the finest moments in Oakland Raiders history when they earned football’s greatest prize, the Lombardi Trophy. After several disappointing playoff losses in the 70’s, the Raiders finally climbed the mountain in 1977 when they crushed the Minnesota Vikings 32-14 in Super Bowl XI. They touched the trophy again in Super Bowl XV, beating the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10. This would be the last Super Bowl the Raiders would win as the Oakland Raiders, but these championships forever live on in the team and City’s proud legacy.
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