Dave Casper, the greatest tight end in Oakland-Los Angeles-Las Vegas Raiders history, was nicknamed “The Ghost,” a reference to cartoon character “Casper, the Friendly Ghost.”
Safety Jack Tatum had his own take on the name.
“Dave Casper was ‘The Ghost,’” Tatum said. “Dave was the whitest white person I had ever seen.”
The 6-4, 240-pound Casper could make defenders turn pale when he headed their way on a pass pattern, or to throw a block, as he had the skills to perform both tasks well after earning All-American honors at tackle and tight end in his last two seasons at Notre Dame.
The Raiders selected Casper in the second round (No. 45 overall) in the 1974 NFL Draft, and surprisingly for a while there was a question as to which position he would play for the Silver and Black.
“When we first got David Casper, he showed up for his rookie camp weighing 260 pounds,” Tom Flores, who was an assistant coach at the time, remembers. “Toward the end of practice one day, Coach (John) Madden sent him over to the offensive linemen and had him work with them for a little while.
“David was swearing up and down that wasn’t a good move for him. … He came back a few weeks later at 235 pounds with a lot more speed and quickness, and then he showed what he could really do.”
Said Madden: “Casper had been a lineman his first three years in college and weighed 255 pounds as a backup tight end during his rookie season with us. During the winter of 1975, we talked about moving him to offensive tackle. We had an off-season workout that spring and put him in the line to try some pass blocking during drills. He was pretty damned good, too.”
When Casper returned for training camp, he had lost 30 pounds and it became obvious that he was a tight end.
Madden was pleased.
“I think what happened was that he had a meeting with himself and decided he wanted to remain a tight end,” Madden said.
Casper became the starting tight end for the Raiders in 1976, and in the next four seasons as a starter, he caught 226 passes for 2,918 yards and 28 touchdowns.
In Super Bowl XI to cap the 1976 season, Casper caught a one-yard touchdown pass from Kenny Stabler for the first TD of the game, finished with four receptions for 70 yards, and was a key blocker as Clarence Davis, Mark van Eeghen and Pete Banaszak rushed for 229 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think he’s already the best tight end in the league,” Stabler said that season. “I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have. He’s very intelligent and just knows how to get open. He knows how to beat a defensive back one-on-one, or he can find the open spot in a zone.
“He’s so big and strong he overpowers anybody he goes against, blocking or receiving. If other teams try to double up on (wide receivers) Fred Biletnikoff or Cliff Branch, Casper can kill them.”
Despite his great consistency, Casper probably is best remembered for two of the Raiders’ famous Games With Names, “Ghost to the Post” against the Baltimore Colts in 1977 and “The Holly Roller” against the San Diego Chargers in 1978.
Against the Colts in a divisional playoff game, Casper caught a 42-yard pass that Stabler threw directly over his head to set up a game-tying field goal in the final minute of regulation, and then caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Stabler to win on the second play of overtime.
“The pass was right over my head,” Casper said. “Kenny threw such a soft ball that it really was a piece of cake to catch. If it looked tough, it really wasn't. I just ran under it and it stuck in my hands.”
Against the Chargers, the Raiders were driving in the final seconds but Stabler was being sacked and time would have run out on the Raiders, so he flipped the ball forward, trying to make it look like a fumble.
Banaszak appeared to try to scoop the ball up on about the five-yard-line but instead knocked it toward the end zone.
Casper reached the ball next, bobbled it forward, and eventually fell on it in the end zone for what was ruled a touchdown. Errol Mann kicked the extra point and the Raiders won, 21-20.
“I played 11 years and had some success, and what am I remembered for?” Casper asked in an NFL Films video. “Being a fumbling fool at the end of a ‘Holy Roller’ or whatever you want to call it.”
Of course, that’s not everything Casper is remembered for, as he made 378 receptions in his career for 5,216 yards and 52 touchdowns, making All-Pro four times and playing in five Pro Bowls in addition to being selected to the NFL 1970s All-Decade team before being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
Casper rejoined Stabler with the Houston Oilers in 1980 and also played for the Minnesota Vikings in 1983 before finishing his career by returning to the Raiders the following season.
Even though he played elsewhere, like many others, “The Ghost” falls into the category of Once a Raider, Always a Raider.
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