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Raiders and Chargers know all about the special fumble rule

A 1978 Raiders-Chargers game gave birth to a rule applied to both teams again last night.



Somewhere in the chill of a north surburban Chicago night, retired NFL referee Jerry Markbreit had to be smiling – or wincing – in the frantic moments of the Raiders-Chargers Week 15 Thursday Night Football game.

Referee John Hussey had to apply a rule that Markbreit wishes would have been on the books 42 years ago.

On September 10, 1978, Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler, ahem, fumbled the ball on the last play of regulation in a game against the Chargers.

Raiders players, ahem, muffed the ball into the end zone, where the they fell on it for a winning touchdown as the clock hit zero.

Later, Stabler said that he had intentionally fumbled the ball forward to keep the last, desperate play alive. In the off-season, the NFL changed the rules so that on fourth down, or in the last two minutes of a half, only the fumbling player can recover a fumble, advance and keep the yardage. If another offensive player recovers the fumble, they still keep it, but the officials return the ball to the spot of the fumble.

1978: Holy Roller play revises rules

Over the years, we’ve seen this play happen once every other season or so. But, I can’t recall this rule being applied with a potential game-winning touchdown on the line.

That is, until John Hussey’s crew nailed that call in real time on Week 15 Thursday Night Football.

This was the first play from scrimmage with under two minutes to go.

Contrary to what Joe Buck said, the officials were doing more than “looking at each other.” Notice that Hussey’s entire crew immediately stopped the clock, got together and confirmed the proper ruling. Hussey’s explanation was spot on, clear and concise.

Gold star to the zebras.

The Chargers scored a touchdown the next play to win the game in overtime. Can you imagine the uproar in Los Angeles (and maybe San Diego) if the Chargers had lost that game?

A Raiders-Chargers game 42 years ago gave birth to this special fumble rule.

Last night the Raiders and Chargers added to that rule’s lore.

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"