Bernie Casey was an NFL player, actor, playwright and most importantly a Los Angeles Rams legend for making one play that changed the way Los Angeles viewed its then struggling team.
Back in the 1960s, the Rams were the laughing stock of the NFL. From 1959-1965, their best record was 5-7-2. Their BEST record.
The then owner of the team in 1966, Dan Reeves lured away Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator George Allen and hired him to become another “new” head coach of the Rams.
At a NFL dinner that spring, Chicago Bears Owner George Halas was sitting next to Green Bay Packers Head Coach Vince Lombardi and Reeves. Halas went on one of famous rants about how disloyal Allen was to him and that Reeves should take notice. Lombardi was stuck in the middle this getting the brunt of the foul-mouth tirade of Halas, a NFL founder and legend, complaining that he was going to make Allen the Bears head coach, but he screwed him, for lack of a better word.
After Halas had finished, Lombardi turned to Reeves and said the famous words, “Sounds like you got a good head coach.”
In 1966, the Rams went 6-8 under Allen. The following year, 1967 expectations were high that the Rams could make a run or at least be respectable. For the Rams to make the playoffs that year, it came down to having to win its final two games. Ram fans knew it was more likely that was not going to happen since their last two games were against Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Colts, two of the best teams of the era.
The mindset in those days of Los Angeles citizens is no different then today. Feelings were that you had “prove it,” and maybe we might show up at the Coliseum. That would indeed have been a sight to see in L.A. because in those days there were no home games on TV. No blackouts to be lifted. It would have taken 100,000 to sell out the venue at the time with the old bench seating.
Back in the 60s, there was also no overtime. Coming into the game at home against the NFL Champion Packers, the Rams were 1⁄2 game out of first place chasing the Colts for the division crown. Beat the defending NFL champions at home and beat the Colts the following week at home again, the Rams would be division champs.
When George Allen became the head coach of Rams, he did something unheard of in the league at the time, he spent 30% of the practices working on what he called, “special teams.” He claimed (unheard of at that time) 30% of the game was “special teams” if you count up the number of plays.
For a full year and three quarters of a second season, the Rams worked and worked on special teams, but there was nothing really special about the Rams’ special teams.
It was one of those crisp beautiful postcard picture winter afternoons in Los Angeles on the day of the game against the Packers, one of those days which Green Bay citizens could only dream about that time of year.
As it is today, 30% of the the crowd were Packer fans. The other 70% were the laid back “prove it to me, we’ll leave early if it’s a blowout to avoid the traffic” Ram fans.
The game went back and forth as the Packers maintained their lead thanks to a Travis Williams 90-yard kickoff return for a TD late in the 3rd quarter.
There was less then a minute left, maybe it was even less then 30 seconds. Nonetheless, as usual Rams fans were heading for the exits.
Donny Anderson, a RB for the Packers was also their punter, caught the snap from the center and all of sudden out of nowhere Tony Gillery appeared headed straight for him—he blocked the punt.
All that work justifying George Allen’s belief in special teams had finally paid off.
The ball rolled towards the goal line and found itself just outside the 10-yard line. The crowd was stunned.
People literally stood in the aisles, the tunnels of the Coliseum were jammed and others were hurrying back to see what happened from the just outside the gates of the park. No one moved.
Ram fans were stunned. When they came to their senses, the fans were staring at the improbability that the Rams could still win this game even though they were down by four points. The Rams had to get a TD not only to win the game, but needed the win to even have a chance at the playoffs.
As Rams fans still stood in the aisles and as the tunnels became increasing more crowded, QB Roman Gabriel went back to pass and hit WR Bernie Casey on a down and out pass in left corner of the end zone with less then 20 seconds to play. The crowd went nuts.
As the players jumped up in joy, and people (even if they didn’t know other) were hugging one another in the aisle and in the tunnels, there lying on the field was that yellow penalty flag and of course, everyone knows that’s its against the Rams.
The TD got wiped out and even worse it put the Rams ten yards further away from the end zone.
You could imagine that the enthusiasm and joy felt by the “prove it me” Rams fans deflated faster then Tom Brady’s deflate(r) could deflate a football.
Now just outside the 20-yard line and with less then 20 seconds left, the Rams had to start over.
Once again Gabriel went back to pass and running the same down and out pattern in left corner of the end zone just beyond the pile lawn was Bernie Casey.
Guess what “prove it” to me Rams fans—it stuck, no flags, no angst, no tears of sorrow rather tears of joy for victory as Bernie Casey nestled the ball, caught the ball in his arms, it was TOUCHDOWN RAMS!
The Rams cleaned the clock of the Baltimore Colts the following week resulting in division championship which had seemed like an eternity since 1951—the Rams had made the playoffs.
The Legacy of Bernie Casey
In that one moment, Bernie Casey became a Rams legend. He is remembered by all longtime diehard “fearsome foursome” Ram fans.
The Coliseum was never the same. Thereafter, it was packed with Los Angeles Rams every Sunday thereafter.
When the Rams-Packers game ended, believe it not, Los Angeles Rams fans ran onto the field.
George Allen got lifted onto the shoulders of his players as if he had just won the Super Bowl. Vince Lombardi, ranked the game the seventh best games he ever coached, even though he lost.
Bernie Casey didn’t have a long career with the Rams, but he caught the ball that turned this franchise around from being identified as losers to winners.
Bernie Casey died today leaving a legacy in both sports and acting that will never be forgotten.
Rest in Peace Bernie. Thank you for the greatest memory of a game this Los Angeles Rams fan ever witnessed.