For those of you who are familiar with my Ballers and Busters series, you know how this works. I put out the list of those players who were part of the solution and those who were part of the problem. Not everyone gets a mention because these two lists are reserved for those who really stood out, either to get credit for their accomplishments or blame for their shortcomings.
In this case, though, instead of breaking down the game of the week (since there isn’t one), we turn back the clock to 1977 and the Raiders’ first Superbowl win.
I was no more than a quarter into the game when it occurred to me just how difficult a task this was going to be. It became clear very quickly that the baller list was going to be a long one and the Buster list would be hard to come by. But I was resolute in my quest to take an analytical eye on this legendary squad. So sit back and enjoy the “who’s who” list of Raider greats in this epic, albeit one sided, battle for NFL supremacy.
It can be easy to forget just how good Dave Casper was. But watch this game and it will be much more difficult. It also will cause you to re-examine just how much of a compliment it is when someone compares Zach Miller to Casper, arguably the best tight end of his era. His combination of blocking, catching, and yards after the catch could be the best of all time and it was never more on display than in Superbowl XI.
His first big play of the game was a 25 yard catch and run that helped set up the first Raiders scoring chance on their first drive of the game. That drive set the tone for the rest of the day. Clarence Davis was breaking off huge runs all day, thanks in large part to Casper’s tremendous downfield blocks. In fact, Davis already had 67 yards midway through the second quarter! At least 42 of those yards were directly thanks to a Casper block. Just two plays after Casper had paved the way for a 34 yard Davis run, Casper caught a short dump off pass and ran for a 26 yard gain. Then two plays later he had probably his most amazing catch of the game. It looked almost identical to the famed “Catch” from Montana to Clark. Back of the end zone, running to his right, leaping in the air to make a fingertip grab. The one difference was on his way down Casper was pushed out of bounds by the defender (this was before the rule about pushing a receiver out of bounds). But, thanks to Casper’s prior 26 yard catch, the Raiders were able to score the first points of the game and go up 3-0.
On the next drive, Casper had another amazing catch and run. It went for 19 yards but just 2 of those yards were the ball in the air. The other 17 yards was all Casper. The next play saw Carl Garrett run left for 13 yards with Casper having his way with would be tacklers, as usual. A few plays later Casper ran a simple fade route toward the corner of the end zone for an easy touchdown to put the Raiders up 10-0.
The rest of the game the Vikings paid a little more attention to Casper. He wasn’t exactly a big secret before the game after a season in which he had 53 catches for 691 yards, but with this Raiders team it was a “pick your poison” situation. The Raiders leaned on the run 2-1 in those days and after they went up by ten, that became even more the game plan than it was before. But Casper continued to make his presence felt as a blocker. He finished the game with 4 catches for 70 yards.
He was the MVP for his 4 clutch catches that led to three of the Raiders touchdowns on the day. Nearly all of them were awe inspiring feats. His first catch was a simple 9 yard comebacker on a drive that ended in a punt. This should tell you just how great the other three were, considering they were enough to earn him Superbowl MVP honors. His second catch was a perfectly placed, leaning sideline grab on third down to set up the Raiders with a first and goal at the 1 yard line. They scored on the very next play for their first TD of the game. The next catch was a 17 yard catch that was low and behind Biletnikoff. He did a baseball slide near the goal line and caught the pass right in the chest along the turf. This set up the Raiders with a first and goal at the 1 yard line yet again. And yet again the Raiders scored on the very next play for their second TD of the game. His final pass catch was the biggest of all, though. He took a pass up the middle for 48 yards to set the Raiders up for first and goal AGAIN at the two yard line. And AGAIN the Raiders scored on the very next play. Even when he wasn’t getting the ball, he was posing enough of a threat to open things up so that Cliff Branch and Dave Casper could do their work. Biletnikoff is the only receiver to ever win Superbowl MVP without going over 100 yards receiving. And there is no question why.
Gene Upshaw and Art Shell
These two were doing some serious work in this game. They teamed up on the first two runs of the game to establish the run early. The next play was a 25 yard romp by Casper and, two plays later, Clarence Davis was running through the huge holes they made yet again. This time he broke off 20 yards to put the Raiders in scoring position on their first drive of the day. Upshaw and Shell would punish the vaunted “Purple People Eater” Viking line all day and leave them at a complete loss. Of Clarence Davis’ 137 yards, 106 of them came through the left side where Upshaw and Shell made their living. This included runs of 20, 35, 18 and 16 yards. Pete Banaszak and Mark Van Eeghen also picked up many needed yards in short yardage situations by going through the left side. One of those runs was on a third and one in which Banaszak picked up 7 yards to set up the Raiders first score. When Carl Garrett came in for Davis, the result was no different. Garrett picked up a nice 13 yard run behind these two behemoths to put the Raiders in scoring range which resulted in their first touchdown of the game. Stabler had all day to throw most of the time and was only pressured twice the entire game, neither of which came from the left side. That is what we call complete and total domination.
The very picture of poise and confidence. He was a gunslinger like no other and his focus and composure on this day was nothing unusual. He was surveying the field and nailing his receivers right where only they could get the ball. The third play of the game saw him hit Casper along the right side for a 25 yard gain. Later, he broke out from the pocket to hit Biletnikoff on a comeback timing route for a first down to keep the drive alive. To set up the first touchdown, he threw a textbook pass to the sideline to a leaning Biletnikoff on the one yard line. Then, on the ensuing touchdown, Stabler tossed a perfect ball so that Casper could high point the ball and pull it down almost effortlessly. The longest play from scrimmage was a perfectly thrown ball to Biletnikoff that went for 48 yards. He finished the day going 12 for 19 for 180 yards and a TD with no interceptions and a QB rating of 111.7.
I wish I could come up a list of “Busters” but there simply weren’t any. This game, more than any other game I have ever seen, was difficult to break down into specific heroes, especially on an offense that was riddled with legendary talents and Hall of Famers. Just take a look at this offensive unit:
QB: Ken Stabler- Highest rated in AFC in 76, Hall of Fame nominee
RB: Clarence Davis- 137 yards in Superbowl XI
FB: Mark Van Eeghen- 3 time 1000 yd rusher, #2 all time rusher for Raiders
FB: Pete Banaszak- Short yardage specialist, had 2 rushing TD in Superbowl XI
WR: Fred Biletnikoff- Hall of Famer, Superbowl XI MVP
WR: Cliff Branch- Hall of Fame nominee, 1111 yds, 12 TD in 76
TE: Dave Casper- Hall of Famer
LT: Art Shell- Hall of Famer
LG: Gene Upshaw- Hall of Famer, former long-time head of NFLPA
C: Dave Dalby- Perennial All-Pro, Hall of Fame nominee
RT: John Vella- Long time and damn fine lineman for the Raiders
HC: John Madden- Hall of Famer, legendary broadcaster, video game pioneer
This looks like an all star squad and it practically was. With five Hall of Famers on this list and three others that probably should be in the Hall, to watch this game was to watch history unfold.
Check out my Ballers & Busters Index for the complete list of games given the B&B treatment (and no I don't mean the Tom Walsh kind of B&B)