“Hey, Clarence Davis caught the ball. Wow, we won!”
As I have been digesting some of the history of the Oakland Raiders in the last couple of days, those words returned to my memory.
The team’s history, of course, has been recounted as the silver and black departed the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on Sunday to make their way toward their new home in (gag) Las Vegas.
What really caught my attention was a story in San Francisco Chronicle listing the top 25 games the Raiders played in the Coliseum over the past 53 years.
After scrolling through the list, beginning with No. 25, I came across game No. 1 on the list. It was an NFL playoff game played on Dec. 21, 1974, against the Miami Dolphins. And it was won by the Raiders in spectacular fashion, 28-26.
That’s when I realized that, yes, I was in the Coliseum that day and saw Clarence Davis’s historic last-second catch — from Kenny Stabler’s equally historic pass — that won the game for the Raiders in the final seconds.
I had a seat in the Coliseum that day thanks to Dave Payne, who had been the sports editor of the Press before moving to the San Jose Mercury News. He was covering the Raiders for the Merc and had access to several tickets to the playoff game and gave one to me. I think my brother, Tom, had a ticket, too, that day.
We watched as the Dolphins went into a five-point lead, 26-21, with two minutes left in the game. The Raiders made it to the 8-yard-line with 35 seconds left on the clock.
As Stabler scrambled to his left, Dolphins defensive end Vern Den Herder tripped him from behind, but as he started falling to his knees, Kenny tossed the ball softly toward the end zone.
Our seats were on the second level close to the northern end zone, so looking down, we had a good view of the action below.
We saw Davis, No. 28, and two Miami defenders in front of him (defensive back Charlie Babb and linebacker Mike Kolen) go for the ball as they fell to the turf. It looked as though Davis held onto the ball, but we didn’t know for sure until he stood up and held the ball in his right hand, signaling a catch. The Coliseum went wild as the Raiders won, 28-26. We joined the hoot and holler.
Because the play culminated with three players grabbing for the ball, the game has become known in football annals as “The Sea of Hands Game.” And this week. as reports of the play resurfaced, I realized I was there to see history in the making.
Unfortunately, the Raiders couldn’t beat Pittsburgh the following week to make their way into the Super Bowl, but the sweetness of their win against the Dolphins in Oakland that day in December 1974 lingers to this day.
It’s a shame the Raiders couldn’t manage to perform the same kind of last-second magic last Sunday in their final minutes in the Coliseum. They had their chance, but this time the sweetness turned sour.