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 “a half-line himself.”
An all-around athlete who Notre Dame head coach Ara Parseghian called “the best athlete I’ve ever coached,” Dave is featured in this week’s Gold Jacket Spotlight.
After graduating with an honors degree in economics from Notre Dame, 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 by stating, “I excelled as a tight end in college. But I haven’t done anything as a pro yet. So, I can’t tell you if I can decipher the Raiders’ lineup. I’ll just try my luck.
Dave’s willingness to seize this opportunity resulted in his induction 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 was granted a starting role in 1976.
Oakland quarterback Ken Stabler knew Dave was an incredible talent, saying, “Dave may have only started one game, but I think he’s already the best tight end in the game. league. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have. He is very intelligent and he knows how to open up.
Stabler later added, “He knows how to beat a defensive back one-on-one, or he can find the free spot in a zone.”
In that breakthrough 1976 season, Dave caught 53 passes for a career-high 691 yards and 10 touchdowns as the Raiders went to a 16-1 overall record that ended in a Super Bowl win. XI.
Raiders coach John Madden also realized the increase in offensive opportunities by adding Dave to the roster along with receivers Cliff Branch and Fred Biletnikoff, telling the Oakland Tribune, “When you have one, or even two, great receivers, defenses can double. When you have three, it’s almost impossible to stop them. And we have three.
While Stabler and Madden appreciated Dave’s pass receiving 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 invaluable to his team’s success, stating, “I always had the guy. I very rarely made mistakes. That’s what I’m most proud of. If I had a good day receiving and a bad day blocking, that was bad.
“It would be fair to say he’s one of the best blockers in football,” Madden said.
Steve Sylvester, a teammate of Dave’s both at Notre Dame and with the Raiders, called Dave “the best blocker and receiver I’ve ever seen.”
Two plays are regularly cited regarding Dave’s career: The “Ghost to the Post”, a 42-yard receiving drive that set up a field goal tying late in a 1977 AFC Divisional playoff game the Raiders won against the Baltimore Colts; and the “Saint Rouleau”.
Often overlooked, Dave caught three extra passes in that playoff game against the Colts, each resulting in a touchdown.
Regarding the “Holy Roller”, Dave once described the odd piece this way:
“I’m on the line of 2 or 3 meters and the ball arrives. I just run over there and try to pick it up and of course I miss that,” he said. “I rush to the ground looking below me, and I saw a white stripe going by and I actually fell on it. I didn’t dive on it. My biggest contribution was being in midfield.
In a video from NFL Films, Dave lamented, “I played 11 years and was successful, and what do you remember me for? Being a groping 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 touchdowns, recognition as a member of the 1970s NFL All-Decade Team and a bronzed bust in Canton, Ohio, we remember certainly from Dave for many more.