Holy Roller (American football)
San Diego Stadium, the site of the game.
|Date||September 10, 1978|
|Stadium||San Diego Stadium, San Diego, California|
|TV in the United States|
|Announcers||Jim Simpson and Paul Warfield|
In American football, "the Holy Roller" (also known as The Immaculate Deception by San Diego Chargers fans) was a controversial game-winning play by the Oakland Raiders against the San Diego Chargers on September 10, 1978, at San Diego Stadium (now SDCCU Stadium) in San Diego, California. It was officially ruled as a forward fumble that was recovered by Raiders tight end Dave Casper in the end zone for a touchdown, ultimately giving Oakland the 21–20 win. However, there have been differing interpretations of how this play should have actually been ruled, and it has remained a controversial play for fans of both teams involved. The NFL amended its rules after the 1978 season in order to prevent a recurrence of the play.
Had the Chargers won this game, and had all other games that season remained with the same outcome, they would have made the playoffs taking the fifth seed over the Houston Oilers, by virtue of a tiebreaker. Both the Chargers and Oilers would have finished with a 10-6 record, but the Chargers' final game of the season was a victory over the Oilers, so the Chargers would have won the tiebreaker on a head-to-head matchup and clinched the fifth seed in the postseason. The final Houston-San Diego game therefore would have had direct playoff consequence, with the winner advancing to the playoffs and the loser being eliminated.
With 10 seconds left in the game, the Raiders had possession of the ball at the Chargers' 14-yard line, trailing 20–14. Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler took the snap and found himself about to be sacked by Chargers linebacker Woodrow Lowe on the 24-yard line. Stabler threw the ball forward, and it rolled towards the Chargers' goal line. Raiders running back Pete Banaszak appeared to try to recover the ball on the 12-yard line, but did not keep his footing, and pitched the ball with both hands even closer to the end zone. Raiders tight end Dave Casper was the next player to reach the ball but he also seemingly could not get a handle on it. He batted and kicked the ball into the end zone, where he fell on it for the game-tying touchdown as time ran out. With the ensuing extra point by placekicker Errol Mann, the Raiders won 21–20.
During the play, the game officials ruled that Banaszak and Casper's actions were legal because it was impossible to determine if they intentionally batted the ball forward, which would have been ruled a penalty. The National Football League (NFL) also supported referee Jerry Markbreit's call that Stabler fumbled the ball instead of throwing a forward pass.
For years, Stabler publicly stated that it was a fumble. However, in a 2008 interview on NFL Films, he was asked if he could convince the camera crew that he did not flip the ball forward. Stabler responded, "No, I can't convince you of that, because I did. I mean, what else was I going to do with it? Throw it out there, shake the dice." Banaszak and Casper also admitted that they deliberately batted the ball towards the end zone.
In response to the Holy Roller, the league passed new rules in the off-season, restricting fumble advances by the offense. If a player fumbles after the two-minute warning in a half/overtime, or on fourth down at any time during the game, only the fumbling player can recover and advance the ball. If that player's teammate recovers the ball during those situations, it is placed back at the spot of the fumble, unless it was a recovery for a loss, in which case the ball is dead and placed at the point of recovery.
The Holy Roller play was directly referenced on December 14, 2014 in response to a critical play in the Green Bay Packers' loss to the Buffalo Bills. When Aaron Rodgers had the ball knocked out of his hand by Mario Williams, it rolled backwards into the end zone and came to a complete stop; Packer RB Eddie Lacy picked up the ball and tried to run with it, but the referee approached quickly, waving his hands to declare the play dead, and after talking to the back judge, signaled a safety for Buffalo. The NFL Director of Officiating said that since the Holy Roller rules were in place, the only person who could have picked up the fumble and advanced it for Green Bay was the original fumbler (Rodgers) and the safety call was correct.
- Holy Roller – The event's common name is a pun on this slang term in American religion.
- Immaculate Reception – The Holy Roller's alternative nickname, "Immaculate Deception", is a play on words based on the name given to this famous play, whose name in turn plays on the Immaculate Conception of Roman Catholic theology.
- Fumblerooski – Other deliberate fumble plays.
- "NFL Feature: Five Best Bloopers of All Time". SportsInvasion.net. 23 September 2012. Archived from the original on 27 November 2015. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
- Markbreit, Jerry; Steinberg, Alan (1999), Last Call: Memoirs of an NFL Referee, Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing Inc., pp. 183–186, ISBN 1-58382-030-2
- Holy Roller at 40: How a Raiders' fumble-turned-TD changed the NFL, ESPN, Paul Gutierrez and Eric Williams, April 18, 2018.
- "The 'Holy Roller'". profootballhof.com. Pro Football Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2009-11-30.
During the off-season, the league added a provision to the rule book about fumbles after the two-minute warning that allows only the player who fumbled the ball to advance it.
- Hyman, Mac (1978-09-15). "Sport Shots". Oakland Post. p. 8.
Stabler said he intentionally fumbled, Pete B. said he batted the ball forward, and Dave Casper said that he knew that if he fell on the ball on the one or two yard line the game would have been over, so he kicked it along into the end zone and fell on it.
- Lapointe, Joe (2008-11-16). "The Giants' Fragile Grasp of the Football Is Causing Concern". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-11-30.
The league changed the rule the next season, making it illegal for the offense to advance the ball beyond the spot of the fumble in the last two minutes or at any time on fourth down.
- Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)
- Audio of the Holy Roller radio play-by-play by Bill King