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1972 Raiders Season
The 1972 Oakland Raiders are best remembered as the team that lost in the playoffs because of the Pittsburgh Steelers Immaculate Reception play. Does one play define a season? We look to answer that question in this episode as we go through a week-by-week summary of the 1972 Raiders NFL season. Learn what NFL record Jack Tatum set in Week 2 that still stands today.Embed from Getty Images
ABOVE: Marv Hubbard rushed for over 1,000 yards in 1972.
A Season of Change
The 1972 season in some ways marked a new era for the Raiders as they transitioned from the players that starred for them in the American Football League in the 1960s to stars that carried the franchise in the 1970s. The Raiders made the AFC Championship every year from 1973-1977 and narrowly missed out in 1972.
Hear the story behind the season we look at a team that owns a heartbreaking spot in NFL history.
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FOOTBALL HISTORY PODCAST:
Hi, everybody, welcome to “The Game before the Money Podcast”.
A look at the 1972 Oakland Raiders.
Hi, everybody, I’m Jackson Michael, author of The Game Before the Money and in this episode, going to take a look at the 1972 Oakland Raiders, a team whose season ended on one of the most famous plays in NFL history. You likely know the story. The Raiders lost to the Steelers in the AFC playoffs on the legendary Franco Harris immaculate reception. And that’s really all most people can tell you about the 1972 Oakland Raiders. The season was important in Raider history, however, and we’ll delve into that in this episode.
Oakland Raider History
A bit of background history. The Raiders appeared in Super Bowl two. That was for the championship for the 1967 season. So that was five years ago. Before entering the 1972 sees it, John Madden had taken over as head coach of the Raiders, starting with the 1969 season. And the Raiders had the best regular season record in all of pro football in 1969, but fell to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFL championship game in 1971. The Raiders missed the playoffs for the first time in five years, despite their solid eight, four and two record. And that was before regular season games went into overtime. And it was also when only four teams made the playoffs from each conference. The Raiders looked to return to the playoffs in 1972. Rookies Cliff Branch, Dave Dalby and Otis Sistrunk had bright Raider futures ahead. So did young quarterback Ken Stabler, who started a week one of 1972, ironically, against the Pittsburgh Steelers. At Three Rivers Stadium, Stabler got off to a rocky start, however, and was replaced first by George Blanda in that game, who was celebrating his forty fifth birthday on that day.
Raiders 1972 Quarterback
And later in the game by Daryle Lamonica, who had started for the Raiders in Super Bowl two and for most of 1971, the Raiders trailed 27 to seven going into the fourth quarter of that week, one game against the Steelers, but scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The Steelers got one big play in the fourth quarter, a 57 yard touchdown pass. Otherwise, it likely would have been an exceptional come from behind win for Daryle Lamonica and the Raiders on the road to start the season. And instead, the Raiders lost 34 twenty. Despite trailing 27 to seven going into the fourth quarter.
The Raiders visited another eventual division champion in week two of the 1972 season. They played the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field and the Raiders led seven to three in the first quarter with the Packers. Inside the Raider five, Green Bay called an obscene play. I know that’s a strange call in pro football.
Longest fumble return in NFL history
The Packers botched the pitch out and the ball bounced into the end zone where Jack Tatum scooped it up for the Raiders and ran a hundred and four yards for a touchdown. As of twenty twenty, that fumble return still stands tied as the longest in NFL history. And that defensive touchdown turned out to be the difference in a twenty to fourteen raider win on the road.
And the 1972 Raiders, were .500 after two weeks, they played their first home game in week three against San Diego. So with Daryle Lamonica calling the signals, George Blanda hit a late field goal to tie the game. And the Raiders stood exactly even at one one and one after three games. And remember, the NFL didn’t go into overtime during the regular season.
Oilers Fan giving Monday Night Football the finger
The Raiders played on Monday Night Football the next week at Houston. You might have actually seen a highlight from this game, but not one from the field of play. The Raiders scored twenty one fourth quarter points and trounced the Oilers 34 to nothing in a game famous for an Oilers fan giving the Monday Night Football cameras the finger late in the game that caused announcer Don Meredith to quit their number one in the nation. Those were the good old days of 1970s NFL football on television.
The Raiders played the Bills at home the next week, and the silver and black trailed 16 to seven in the fourth quarter before they launched another twenty one point fourth quarter outburst to win the game that marked three times in the season’s first five weeks that the Raiders scored twenty one points in the fourth quarter behind quarterback Darryl Lamonica, the team’s record stood at three, one and one after dropping the next week’s game against the Broncos. Oakland prove they could score early as well as late in the game as the team jetted to a twenty eight point first quarter against the Los Angeles Rams.
Phil Vilapiano, later raced eighty two yards on an interception return for a touchdown, and the Raiders destroyed the Rams forty five to seventeen. So already you’re seeing the potent Oakland Raider offense scoring three and four touchdowns in a quarter. In four of the first seven weeks of the season. The Raiders played rival Kansas City the next week in the Chiefs new home, Arrowhead Stadium, which opened in 1972. The first ever Raiders Kansas City game at Arrowhead went to Kansas City and launched the Chiefs into first place in the AFC West. With six games remaining in the season. The Raiders stood at four, three and one at this point, and its points like this that define a team’s character. Are they a mediocre team in decline? Are they rebuilding squad or do they have the makeup of champions rising to the occasion? The previous week’s Kansas City game started a three game road trip with travels to both Cincinnati in Denver, the Raiders topped the Bengals in Cincinnati, a team with a winning record and then avenge the earlier loss to the Broncos. ODIs Sistrunk had an outstanding game against Denver and Daryle Lamonica continue to lead the Raiders potent offense, a team that could have easily tanked after losing the first of three road games to fall to almost five hundred proved that it had resolve. The team had so much resolve that the Raiders turned the tables on Kansas City, who lost two straight while the Raiders won on the road and the Raiders kept on winning the team Ross for over two hundred and fifty yards in the rematch against the Chiefs, while Daryle and Monica threw two touchdown passes and the Oakland defense shut down Kansas City in a convincing twenty six to three victory that all but sewed up the AFC West in favor of the silver and black.
So if you look in the course of three weeks, that 1972 Raiders team went from treading on some pretty thin ground to basically wrapping up the division in just a three week period, the Raiders won out the rest of the regular season and gained their Fifth Division title in six seasons. The 1972 Raiders also claimed their first of five straight division titles to come. That totals ten division titles out of eleven seasons. And don’t forget that their division rival, the Kansas City Chiefs, won the Super Bowl. During that period, the Raiders dominated the regular season for a decade. Oakland’s potent rushing attack in 1972 rust for over two hundred yards in four games. The team placed third in the AFC in points scored and in points allowed. The Raiders traveled to Pittsburgh for the divisional playoffs and a lot of people get that mixed up. The immaculate reception didn’t send the. Dealers to the Super Bowl, the undefeated Dolphins won the AFC title that year, the divisional playoff game at Pittsburgh was the second time that the teams met at Three Rivers Stadium that year.
1972 Pittsburgh Steelers defense
The Steelers finished second in the NFL in points allowed and Pittsburgh came into the game, having won nine of their last 10 games. Their defense gave up a total of 13 points over the last four games. Only one touchdown have been scored against the Steelers in those four games.
But the Raiders, of course, had that offense that could put points up in bunches. The Raiders started off the playoff game by running their one thousand yard rusher. Marv Hubbard to the left behind the art shell. They found success nibbling away at the Steeler defense. But the drive ended with an interception. The Raider defense responded and stopped Terry Bradshaw on a third down scramble. And so the Steelers didn’t capitalize on that interception. The Steelers mighty defensive line, led by Joe Greene, stymied the Raider offense through the rest of the first half pass plays. Didn’t have time to develop the running lanes collapsed. The longest Raider pass play in the first half was an eleven yard reception by Fred Bullett Biletnikoff. But the Raiders defense also came up big. Jack Tatum stopped a fourth and two when he plugged up the middle on a Steeler dive play. And throughout that first half, ODIs Sistrunk moved laterally across the line to stop the Steeler running game, and Tony Kline pressured Terry Bradshaw on pass plays and came up with a big sack. Both defenses own the first half against high scoring offenses. The game was scoreless at halftime. The Steelers adjusted their game plan on their opening drive of the second half and threw underneath the Franco Harris and then open things up with a longer pass to get inside the Raider.
Twenty Pittsburgh kicked a field goal and led three to nothing after the first possession of the second half. Darryl Lamonica remained at quarterback for Oakland but couldn’t get the offense moving against a stalwart Steelers. The Raiders defense answered, however, and Cline continued his sack attack on Bradshaw late in the third quarter. An odd play likely proved important. Lamonica previously completed a nineteen yard pass to Raymond Chester to get the Raiders close to Field goal range. But on third down, the Steelers deflected a pass that was caught by Raiders Center Jim Otto. Otto valiantly attempted to pick up the first down, but fell a yard shy. The Raiders came away with no points on that drive. Oakland’s next possession came in the fourth quarter, still trailing three to nothing. Lamonica through a long pass to Biletnikoff whose double covered in the throw was intercepted by second year linebacker Jack Ham. The Raider defense again answered the call and prevented the Steelers from capitalizing. And John Madden replaced Lamonica with Ken Stabler at quarterback. Stabler had been on the Raider roster for a few years but hadn’t played much. But the Raiders offensive storyline didn’t change much, and the Steeler defensive line crushed Stabler. The Raider defense followed up with an interception, and the Steelers followed that up with a fumble recovery in Raider territory.
And the Raider turnover led to a field goal and the Steelers led six to nothing. But still, it’s a one possession game, and the Oakland offense came alive on the next possession. Stabler connected on three passes that produced first downs. The third was to Fred Biletnikoff in Steeler territory at about the Two-minute warning. Stabler later hit rookie Mike Siani at the Steeler Thirty and.
Ken Stabler scramble 1972 playoffs
The next play could have been the most famous in Ken Stabler’s career. He rolled to his left a throw and then gambled when he saw daylight down the sideline and touched the ball under his arm. He scampered the full 30 yards for a Raider touchdown and Oakland led seven to six with just over a minute left. That is it. A highlight that you see very often. However, it likely would have been a very famous playing Ken Stabler’s career and an Oakland Raider history had it not been for what happened in the final minute of that game. And we all know what happened in the final minute of that game. It’s, of course, another story for another day. We could spend a long time talking about that famous Franco Harris catch. And although everybody knows that bit of NFL history, well, we don’t know is how the Raiders would have fared against the undefeated Dolphins in the AFC championship game. And it’s really hard to say. The Dolphins, of course, went undefeated. Even through the Super Bowl, recognized as one of the greatest teams in NFL history, if not the greatest team in NFL history, and Miami statistically had the best offense and defense in the NFL that year.
And in many categories, no other teams were close. I’m not a big stats guy, but teams like that tend to win championships. The Raiders, however, did and the Dolphins winning streak when they beat them in week two of the 1973 season. And there’s some trivia for you. The 1972 Raiders stand as a bridge between the 1960s AFL Raiders and the 1970s AFC Raiders. Stabler replaced the Monaca for good. Early in the 1973 season, and younger players such as Otis Sistrunk, Phil Vilapiano and Jack Tatum solidified the defense as careers had finished for men like Ben Davidson and David Grayson.
By the end of 1971, the players that defined the 1970s Raiders solidified themselves as a unit in 1972 and had the divisional playoff ended differently. The Raiders would’ve made the AFL an AFC championship games for a grand total of ten out of eleven seasons. The Raiders made it to the AFC championship game for the next five consecutive years. From 1973 through 1977, overall, the Raiders made it to at least the AFL AFC championship game. For nine out of 11 seasons, missing only 1971 and 1972. In the years between 1967 and 1977. Although the 1972 Raiders fell short in the divisional playoffs, they formed the nucleus of the team that continued the Raider tradition from the late 1960s through the 1970s and eventually into the early 1980s.
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Photo of Daryle Lamonica in 1972.