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Gold Jacket Spotlight: Dave Casper ‘Half A Line Himself’

During his college career at the University of Notre Dame, Dave Casper earned consensus All-American status as a tight end. He played four different positions so successfully that his blocking abilities prompted legendary Alabama coach “Bear” Bryant to describe Dave as “half a line himself.”

A versatile athlete whom Notre Dame head coach Ara Parseghian labeled “the best athlete I ever coached,” Dave is featured in this week’s Gold Jacket Spotlight.

After graduating cum laude from Notre Dame with a degree in economics, Dave was selected in the second round of the 1974 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders.

In an Ed Levitt column published in the Oakland Tribune in 1974, Dave responded to his selection, stating: “I excelled as a tight end in college. But I haven’t done anything yet as a pro. So, I can’t tell you if I can crack the Raiders’ lineup. I’ll just take my chance.”

Dave’s willingness to take that chance resulted in enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

After spending the majority of his first two seasons as a member of the Raiders’ special teams, Dave earned a starting role in 1976. 

Oakland quarterback Ken Stabler knew that Dave was an incredible talent, stating, “Dave may have only started one game, but I think he’s already the best tight end in the league. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have. He’s very intelligent and he knows how to get open.”

Stabler later added, “He knows how to beat a defensive back one-on-one, or he can find the open spot in a zone.”

In that breakthrough 1976 season, Dave caught 53 passes for 691 yards and a career-high 10 touchdowns as the Raiders rolled to a 16-1 overall record that ended with a victory in Super Bowl XI.

Raiders coach John Madden also realized the increase in offensive opportunities upon adding Dave to the lineup with receivers Cliff Branch and Fred Biletnikoff, telling the Oakland Tribune, “When you have one, or even two, great receivers, then defenses can double up. When you have three, it’s almost impossible to stop them. And we have three.”

While Stabler and Madden appreciated Dave’s pass-catching ability, opponents were also aware of Dave’s blocking skills. Jim Lynch, a Kansas City Chiefs linebacker from 1968 to 1977, described Dave as a “great blocker.”

Dave, too, believed his blocking abilities were valuable to his team’s success, declaring, “I always got into the guy. I very seldom made a mistake. That’s what I took most pride in. If I had a great day receiving and a poor day blocking, it was bad.”

Madden agreed.

“It would be fair to say he is one of the best blocking tight ends in football,” Madden said.

Steve Sylvester, a teammate of Dave’s at both Notre Dame and with the Raiders, characterized Dave as “the best blocking and receiving tight end I’ve ever seen.”

Two plays routinely are cited regarding Dave’s career: The “Ghost to the Post,” a 42-yard reception route that set up a game-tying field goal at the end of a 1977 AFC Divisional Playoff Game the Raiders won against the Baltimore Colts; and the “Holy Roller.”

Often overlooked, Dave caught three additional passes in that playoff game against the Colts, each resulting in a touchdown.

Regarding the “Holy Roller,” Dave once described the bizarre play this way: 

“I’m on the 2- or 3-yard line, and the ball comes. I just run up there and try to pick it up and, of course, I flub that,” he said. “I’m scrambling on the ground watching underneath me, and I saw a white stripe go by and I actually just fell on top of it. I didn’t dive on it. My greatest contribution was standing in the middle of the field.”

In an NFL Films video, Dave would lament, “I played 11 years and had some success, and what am I remembered for? Being a fumbling fool at the end of a ‘Holy Roller’ or whatever you want to call it.”

With five Pro Bowl appearances, four first-team All-Pro seasons, 52 receiving touchdowns, recognition as a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1970s and a Bronzed Bust in Canton, Ohio, Dave certainly is remembered for much more.

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