Great Raiders From History: Dave Casper

PASADENA, CA- JANUARY 9: Dave Casper #87 of the Oakland Raiders runs with the ball against the Minnesota Vikings during Super Bowl XI on January 9, 1977 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The Raiders won the Super Bowl 32 -14. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
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As the off-season moves along, the Oakland Raiders department of Last Word on Pro Football will be doing a series on great Raiders from history. We’ll revisit Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders that are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, reminiscing on their careers and impact on the silver and black. This week, Dave Casper is the topic of discussion.

Great Raiders From History: Dave Casper

David John Casper was drafted in the second round of the 1974 draft. Although he barely played for his first two seasons, he would go on to become the best tight end to ever play for the Raiders and one of the best to ever play the game.

The Early Years at Oakland

In his first season at Notre Dame, he had played at tackle, and it showed when he first arrived at the Raiders HQ. He showed up at 255 lbs and there was talk after his first season of moving him to tackle. Whilst that didn’t happen, Casper always remained an excellent blocker, keen to talk up his role as a hole-creating, quarterback-protector.

Asked about his famous Ghost To The Post catch in the 1977 Divisional Playoff game, Casper said, “It wasn’t any big thing. I was more involved in my blocking than pass catching.”

That was Casper. Despite the key roles he played in famous Raiders games like The Holly Roller and Ghost To The Post, he was always happier discussing the less glamourous parts of his job.

The First Complete Tight End?

However much he might have talked down his receiving skills, there are all to see on film. His silky hands, his ability to find open space, ‘ghosting’ past linebackers. His power after the catch, his mean stiff arm, his crushing acceleration over the poor defensive backs trying to drag him down.

Casper was the complete tight end. A mean and effective pass blocker, a mauling run blocker and a soft-handed, reliable pass catcher. Over his career as a Raider he caught 255 passes, 35 of which went for touchdowns. Over ten percent of his receptions went for touchdowns. That’s some red zone weapon. And it’s better than his Hall of Fame contemporaries John Mackey, Ozzie Newsome and Kellen Winslow. Casper was a touchdown machine.

His skills were perhaps best displayed during Super Bowl XI. Whilst Fred Biletnikoff took home MVP honours in the 32-14 trouncing of the Minnesota Vikings, Casper was arguably as good. He caught the same number of passes as Biletnikoff for just nine yards fewer, whilst also pulling the Raiders opening touchdown. On top of this, he played his part in a run blocking performance that led Raider running backs to a combined total of 266 yards rushing.

A Perfect Fit With a Legendary Team

Casper was a part of the legendary 1970s Oakland Raiders. Casper’s highly intelligent, easy-to-bore personality perfectly represented the rebel persona of the Raiders. As Casper himself said:

With the Raiders we don’t have to put up with any Mickey Mouse stuff. We don’t have rules about keeping our chinstraps buckled on the sidelines. We don’t have coaches encouraging a lot of false chatter on the practice field. The phony stuff is for losers. We’re treated like intelligent human beings. We don’t live by a lot of degrading rules. Our coaches don’t harass us because they know we’re winners.

And Casper was hugely intelligent, able to pick up and understand plays quickly. Like so many of the Raiders at that time, he didn’t need hours of meetings or study to be brilliant. Meetings, rules, structure – these were just boring obstacles getting in the way of going out there on Sunday and being brilliant as a team.

But Why ‘The Ghost’?

There is of course the question of his famous nickname. In the book, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”, Steven Travers suggests that he was called the Ghost because he could “disappear”. His ability to find himself free in the centre of the field would certainly add credence to this. But if the outside of the field was manned by Fred Biletnikoff and Cliff Branch, wouldn’t you expect the centre to be slightly more open?

Numerous sources online suggest the obvious: that it is to do with Casper the Friendly Ghost. After all, they have a shared name. But perhaps the most amusing suggestion of where the nickname originated comes from Jack Tatum, quoted in the book “Cheating Is Encouraged” (what a great title, by the way). In it, Tatum says simply, “Dave Casper was ‘The Ghost’. Dave was the whitest white person I had ever seen”.

Leaving The Raiders

Half-way through the 1980 season Casper was surprisingly traded to the Houston Oilers. Reunited with quarterback Kenny Stabler, they carried Houston on an 8-2 tear to end the season. However, they lost in the playoffs to The Raiders, who were on their own way to a Jim Plunkett inspired Super Bowl.

The trade was for one first round pick and two second round picks. This gives you some idea of the value that was placed on the 28 year old Casper, coming off 4 straight Pro Bowl seasons. In the 1981 draft, using the second round pick the Oilers had traded to them, the Raiders selected Howie Long. And we all know how that turned out.

The Greatest Raider Tight End

Casper finished his career with 378 receptions and 52 touchdowns in 147 games. He was in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All 1970s Team 1st team. He was made a first team all-pro in 1976,77,78 and 79. And, most remarkably, once Dave Casper became a starter in 1976 the Raiders never lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers again for the rest of the 1970s. One of the best tight ends to ever play the game AND a good luck charm against one of the Raiders most hated opponents? Truly, Dave ‘The Ghost’ Casper is one of the greatest Raiders to have ever played the game.