Oakland Raiders Vault: Super Bowl XVIII, January 22nd, 1984

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Black Sunday

The Raiders struck first on the warm Florida evening, as special teams captain Derrick Jensen blocked a Jeff Hayes punt and landed on it in the end zone, putting the Raiders up 7-0. It was a slow first quarter, as Washington sought to establish Riggins and the run game early by giving him eight carries in the quarter, on which he gained 24 yards.

Joe Theismann struggled to get going as a passer, hitting only two of his ten passes in the first period. The Raiders offense also didn’t get much done: Marcus Allen carried the ball six times for 25 yards, and Plunkett was 4 of 7 for 23 yards. A Ray Guy punt was the result of the first three Raider offensive possessions, while the Washington special teams unit had a punt blocked and missed a field goal. The Raiders had the 7-0 advantage, but neither team was dominating quite yet.

That would change early in the second quarter. The Raiders got the ball at their own 35 with 10:38 left in the quarter after another failed Washington drive and punt. Flores, having apparently had enough with the chess game, dialed up an Al Davis special: a deep pass to the speedy Cliff Branch. Plunkett heaved it down the field and connected with Branch for the 50 yard play, by far the longest play of the day by either team to that point. The monster play put the Ball on the Washington 15-yard line.

Two plays later, and Plunkett found Branch cutting across the end zone and hit him for the 12-yard score. The Raiders had gone up 14-0 on the defending champions. Washington responded with a long scoring drive of their own, but they killed six minutes of clock and ran 12 plays only to get three points on a 24-yard Mark Moseley field goal. The subsequent Raider drive stalled at the Washington 39, and future Hall of Fame punter Ray Guy expertly pooch-punted the ball down to the 12 yard line, where Joe Theismann and his offense would take over. They wouldn’t have it for very long.

With 12 seconds left in the half, down 14-3 against a team they had come from behind to beat earlier in the year, the generally conservative Joe Gibbs decided to try to fool the Raiders and called a screen play: Rocket Screen. The play, which had worked to the tune of 67 yards during the teams’ regular season meeting, was designed for Theismann to drop back and look right before turning and throwing to running back Joe Washington on his left.

Raider linebacker Matt Millen had already called for a blitz on the play, expecting to see Riggins up the middle, when linebackers coach Charlie Sumner sent backup linebacker Jack Squirek into the game with the assignment to cover Washington – Sumner had not forgotten Rocket Screen. Millen was forced to race off the field to avoid the 12-men penalty, and it appeared at first that the Raiders were confused, so Theismann snapped the ball and hit his drop.

But the Raiders were not confused: Lyle Alzado had broken off his rush and peeled back toward Washington, causing Theismann to float the ball high to get it over Alzado’s head. Jack Squirek, who had been tracking Washington from the snap, broke toward the ball and grabbed it from right in front of Washington. The play was over before you could blink, and Squirek was in the end zone for a touchdown as the Raider sideline went nuts. Oakland had taken a 21-3 lead over the defending champs going into the locker room at halftime.