Tight end Raymond Chester, one of the best to ever play his position even though he is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, had two memorable stints with the Oakland Raiders.
In between, he spent five seasons with his hometown team, the Baltimore Colts, but Chester doesn’t hesitate when asked which team he identifies with.
“As they say, Once a Raider, Always a Raider,” said Chester, who played for the Raiders from 1970-72 and 1978-81, in an interview on Raiders.com. “I bleed Silver and Black.
“I was really heartbroken when I was traded to the Colts (for defensive end Bubba Smith in 1973). I was from Baltimore, but by that time I had moved to Oakland, fell in love with it, stayed there while I played for Baltimore, and I still live here.
“But I went to the Colts, kept my mouth shut, and did my job. But it was horrible. We went 4-10 and 20-12 the next two years.”
Said Colts General Manager Joe Thomas: “We had a chance to get possibly the best tight end in all of football and we had to give a good football player (defensive end Bubba Smith) to get him.”
Added his former Raiders teammate, Derrick Ramsey: “John Mackey set the standard at tight end, and Raymond Chester is of that same mold. He’s a big guy, a very strong guy, but also had the speed of a wide receiver, which was unheard of during the time he first got into football. The guys that were similar to him … they’re already (in the Hall of Fame).”
It could be that those five years in Baltimore instead of Oakland cost him the chance to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio.
The 6-3, 232-pound Chester was drafted by the Raiders in the first round (No. 24 overall) of the 1970 NFL Draft out of Morgan State and started as a rookie, making 42 receptions for 556 yards and seven touchdowns.
Chester was named NFL Rookie of the Year and earned the first of three consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl as the Raiders reached the playoffs with an 8-4-2 record, beat the Miami Dolphins, 27-17, in the first round but lost to the Colts, 27-17, in the AFC Championship Game.
“When I came to the Raiders, the veterans were very tough on the young players, but it was to make us better,” Chester recalled of his rookie season. “Billy Cannon, who had been the starting tight end, helped teach me how to do things on the pro level.
“Others like Willie Brown took me under their wings and it was all for the good of the team.”
In 12 NFL seasons with the Raiders and Colts, he made 364 catches for 5,103 yards, a 13.1-yard average, and 48 touchdowns.
Chester played in many classics, including the famed “Ghost to the Post” playoff game in 1977 when Raiders tight end Dave Casper made an incredible 42-yard catch on a pass from Kenny “Snake” Stabler as the Raiders pulled out a 37-31 victory over the Colts.
Of course, Chester was playing for Baltimore at the time.
“(Casper) was able to make an incredible adjustment on the ball,” Chester said. “There were only a handful of guys in the league who could make that catch when it counted when you needed to make it.
“It was the first time we had played against the Raiders since I went to Baltimore where I felt we really had a chance to match up with them. I thought we had every opportunity to beat them.”
During that off-season, Chester got a phone call from Coach John Madden of the Raiders saying that the Silver and Black had a chance to get him back, and Chester said he was all for it.
About 15 minutes later, Chester got a call back from Madden saying that the Raiders had acquired him for wide receiver Mike Siani.
“I was really excited and told John that I still lived in Oakland during the off-season and would love to come back to the Raiders,” Chester said. “The Raiders still had Dave Casper at tight end and I told John that didn’t matter.
“I said I would be the backup tight end and make All-Pro on special teams.”
By coming back to the Raiders, Chester wound up playing with both quarterbacks who led the Raiders to victories in the Super Bowl, Stabler (Super Bowl XI) and Jim Plunkett (Super Bowls XV and XVIII).
Chester cherishes the time he spent with both.
“Stabler was steady and calm, always confident, never got rattled by anything,” Chester said. “Never saw the guy panic in my life. I swear, I thought he could throw the ball around a corner.
“Jim Plunkett had the biggest heart, the most courage of anybody I ever played with. He had a great throwing arm, but he looked bad, even ugly out there sometimes. But he was so tough and he could make plays, big plays. He had the will to win.”
Chester was selected All-Pro and made the Pro Bowl again in 1979 when he caught 58 passes for 712 yards and eight touchdowns and made one of the biggest plays the following year as the Raiders were on their way to becoming the first wild card team to win the Super Bowl.
In the AFC Championship Game against the San Diego Chargers, Chester caught a deflected pass from Plunkett and turned it into a 65-yard touchdown on the third play of the game that started the Raiders on their way to a 34-27 upset victory.
“I had the ball bounce the wrong way so many times, it was nice to have one go the other way, but that one went the right way and I caught it,” Chester said. “People tell me what a lucky play that was and I say maybe it was.
“But what everyone forgets is that I was 34 years old and had to outrun all of their defensive backs the length of the field and I was able to do it. That was one of the most incredible games I’ve ever played in.
“We ran off by the last six minutes by giving the ball to Mark van Eeghen on every play and the Chargers couldn’t stop us even though they knew exactly what we were doing on every play.”
The Raiders capped their incredible season with a 27-10 upset of the Philadelphia Eagles as Chester caught two passes for 24 yards, including a 16-yarder, but he wasn’t looking for any personal accolades.
“After making the playoffs six times and losing, it was great to finally get to the Super Bowl and win,” Chester said. “And I’m just happy it came with the Raiders.”
Raider Nation agrees.
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