The seasons of 1970-77 were dismal years for our boys in blue and gold.  They failed to finish above .500 for six straight seasons until finishing 7-7 in 1977 (ironic, isn’t it?).

The Oakland Raiders, on the other hand, were perennial contenders who fell short of the top prize by strange circumstances.  I mean who can forget some of the great plays in NFL history involving them:  The Immaculate Reception, The Sea of Hands, and The Ghost to the Post.  Their greatest adversary in those days were the Pittsburgh Steelers.  In fact, between 1974-77, the road to the Super Bowl went through those two towns.

But this isn’t an article about the Steelers and the Raiders rivalry.

For several years, as pointed out in the accompanying video, the Chargers-Raiders rivalry was a one-sided affair.  The Chargers had gone winless in 15 games against their division rivals (0-13-2 to be exact).  On November 10, 1977, the winless streak was broken, 12-7, in a game played at San Diego Stadium (a.k.a Qualcomm Stadium).

In 1978, on the second week of the season, a play was made, and the results gave birth to a grudge match.

In the remaining seconds of a September 10, 1978 game between the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders, the Chargers were on their way to two game winning streak against the Raiders.  Then, the unthinkable happened.

Despite the protests of the Chargers sideline, the play was allowed to stand and the Raiders won the game, 21-20.  According to NFL rules at that time, there was nothing illegal about the play.  The Chargers would lose three straight games to start 1-4 through the first five games.  It cost then Head Coach Tommy Prothro his job and Don Coryell took over which gave birth to Air Coryell. The magic didn’t start immediately.  Under Coryell, the Chargers lost two out of three before getting hot at the end of the season, winning seven out of eight, to finish 9-7.  Hmm, sound familiar?

Rivalries are an interesting concept.  A lot of them grow out of geography.  Some are a matter of divisional alignment.  Others become nasty because of a long history between the teams.  On occasion, an incident happens that elevates a rivalry to a grudge match.  The beauty of the Chargers-Raiders rivalry is their history contains all of the listed attributes.

They were both born in the American Football League, they’re both California teams who play in the Western Division.  They both at some point in their history played in Los Angeles.  It was at the Memorial Coliseum too (wow, that place is old).  Lately, both teams have been attached to returning to Los Angeles but that’s another story for another day.

I watched the Holy Roller live on TV as a child and I never forgot it.  In recent years, the rivalry has gone back and forth with the teams splitting the two divisional games or one team sweeps the other.  I’ll be honest, the Raiders haven’t been satisfactory let alone good in a long time.  Yet, on any given Sunday, anything can happen.

I only hope the game doesn’t involve any underhanded trickery (pun intended).

So, other than a definitive Chargers victory, what are some of your favorite memories of the Chargers-Raiders rivalry?  Please comment below. We welcome, enjoy, and respond to your comments.



David Parada

5 Responses to The Holy Roller: One Play Turned Rivalry Into Grudge Match

  • I don’t think anything illegal happened either. It was an incomplete forward pass. Stabler threw the ball forward to avoid the sack. The moronic refs called it a fumble and then the circus began. Funny that the NFL changed the rules to disallow advancing a fumble inside two minutes because of a play that didn’t really involve a fumble. Anyway, nice write up! I’ll never forget that damn play.

    • David Parada says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Will. My answer for this play is simple. If the NFL was reviewing scoring plays in 1978, I’m sure the score would’ve been denied because officials would’ve ruled Stabler’s miscue a forward pass.

    • David Parada says:

      Well, with adjustments made to NFL rules, I doubt anything this controversial will happen on Sunday. My concern now is fans getting wrapped up in the whole stadium situation. Let’s not get over-confident with regards to the Raiders. It was similar scenario last year and–well, you know the score.

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