Richard Caster, a three-time Pro Bowler with the Jets, passed away in his sleep Friday after a long battle with Parkinson's Disease. Caster was 75.
Over eight seasons with the Jets, Caster totaled 245 receptions, 4,434 yards and 36 touchdowns from 1970-77. The wide receiver turned tight end appeared in 107 games with New York's AFC representative, making 98 starts and averaging 18.1 yards per catch. He also ran the ball 13 times and gained 65 yards for a 5.0 yards/carry figure.
"A gentle soul," said former Jets WR Wesley Walker, a teammate of Caster's in 1977. "He was a mentor to me from day one. I first saw Richard as a fan on Monday Night Football. Physically I was in awe of him. How can this dude at 6-5 play wide receiver? And he moved from TE to WR so effortlessly. I will miss the way he would say my name. He was one of the classiest teammates, a true professional and always a perfect gentleman."
A second-round pick of the Green & White in 1970, Caster attended Jackson State before playing 13 seasons in the NFL. A star athlete at L.B. Williamson High in Mobile, AL, Caster told Kevin Blackistone in 2020 of his college decision in 1966 to play 200 miles away from the Gulf Coast in Mississippi's capital of Jackson. He had an affinity for the University of Alabama, but the Crimson Tide didn't play with a black player on its roster until 1971.
"Between Jackson and Mobile, there was a lot of highway," Caster said in Blackistone's Washington Post article. "And I used to drive home a couple, three times a year, and we knew there were places where we weren't going to be able to stop and eat or anything. Forget McDonald's and all that kind of stuff. You stopped at a service station, and by and large the service stations were owned by some white owner who [would] serve black kids, but they had to go around to the back, and there was a little window you could get your food. And you couldn't eat there. You had to get back in your car and start rolling. That was … separate but equal."
At Jackson State, Caster lined up at receiver and tight end and produced 160 catches, 3,638 yds and 28 TDs. Selected No. 46 overall in the 1970 NFL Draft, he was a starter at wide receiver in his second game wearing the green and white, in which he helped the Jets to their first win of the season over the Patriots. He started six games as a rookie before becoming a full-time starter his next seven seasons.
The pro career then would see Caster , wearing No. 88, average a stellar 17.1 yards per catch started with the Green & White and their Hall of Fame QB — Joe Namath.
"I didn't think I'd get drafted, but scouts were showing interest. When I got drafted, it was a dream come true, playing with the best quarterback in the game at that time," Caster told newyorkjets.com's Jim Gehman in 2018. "Being from Alabama, I was a big Joe Namath fan all along, even before he won that Super Bowl. So there was kind of a home connection there a little bit through Joe. Not that I knew him, but the idea that he was a homeboy."
The 6-5, 228-pound Caster was incredibly athletic and productive from the onset, averaging 18.8 yards a catch in 1970-71 and totaling nine TDs. Then prior to the 1972 campaign, head coach Weeb Ewbank audibled and moved Caster from WR to TE. Not only blessed with great size, Caster had 4.5 speed and was a matchup problem for opposing defenses.
"I think it had to do with defenses and the way they were trying to defend us," Caster said. "Early on, through the '60s and right on to the early '70s, I've got to believe the general approach from most teams defensively was to try to cover the tight end with a linebacker. And I could outrun most linebackers or any linebacker that I ever ran into, really."
The switch paid immediate dividends as Caster hauled in a career-high 10 TDs in 1972 while averaging a staggering 21.4 yards on his 39 catches. During the epic Namath-Johnny Unitas duel on Sept. 24, 1972, the Jets' 44-34 win over the Colts, Namath passed for six TDs and the two Hall of Famers combined for a then-record 872 yards through the air. Caster caught six balls for 204 yards, including scoring passes of 10, 79, 80 yards.
With 7:26 to play, Caster gathered in a deep intermediate throw from Namath and went 54 yards after the catch, 79 in all, for the TD that gave the Jets a 37-27 lead. When Unitas found Tom Matte for an answering score, Namath-to-Caster answered again with another long catch-and-run of 80 yards, with 54 yards again coming after the catch, with 5:24 to play to forge the final score.
Caster's encore was a 60-yard catch the next week at Houston, and he and Namath added an 89-yard TD strike at Miami in 1974 and a 91-yarder, again from Namath and again against the Colts, at Shea Stadium in 1975.
Longtime Jets public relations director Frank Ramos remembered the excitement of the Jets-Colts in '72: "It was an incredible game. I was up and down in the pressbox letting people know, 'That's another record.' " In the Jets' 1977 media guide, Ramos referred to Caster as "the premier receiving tight end in pro football," annd who could argue with his wideout numbers while he improved year by year on his tight end blocking skills?
"In the years that Joe was healthy and able to play, it seemed to work out for me because those were years that I made the Pro Bowls," Caster said.
Caster earned Pro Bowl selections in 1972, '74 (38-745-19.6-7 TD) and '75 (47-820-17.4-4 TD). Besides his long catches, Caster had a 60-yard run on an end-around in 1976 against Washington — that scamper remains the longest rush by a TE in franchise history.
Traded to the Oilers in 1978, Caster finished his career with Houston (1978-1980), New Orleans (1981) and Washington (1981-82). In 161 regular-season games, he totaled 332 receptions for 5,515 yards and 45 TDs. He earned a Super Bowl ring after Washington topped Miami, 27-17, in Super Bowl XVII.
During his time with the Jets, Caster was active with the Bronx Boys Club and the New York Urban League. He also served as chairman of the March of Dimes Walkathon in New York City in 1976-77. A mathematics major at Jackson State, Caster was hired in 1985 by Rye Country Day and Greenwich Country Day to help improve their minority enrollment and work as an assistant coach.
"Richard possessed a remarkable presence with the ability to transcend and leverage the success he had on the field to his life after football," said former Jets safety Shafer Suggs, who played with Caster in 1976-77. "That is the biggest impact he had on my life."
Caster went on to serve on the board of the Joe Namath Foundation, which awarded grants to organizations that meet the criteria for children's charities and neurological research. He also sat on the board of the Head Injury Association of Long Island, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to maximize traumatic brain injury survivors' potential.
"Richard was a great teammate and friend," said Jets Hall of Famer Joe Klecko, who like Walker was Caster's teammate in 1977. "I will pray for him and his family that God will bring them peace."
Caster is survived by his wife, Susan, of 37 years, two daughters, Shannon Myla and Alona, and three sons, Richard J., Max and Sean. Visitation hours at the Fairchild Funeral Home, 1201 Franklin Ave., Garden City, NY, on Long Island, will be Thursday from 6-9 p.m. and Friday from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. A prayer service will be held Friday at 7:30 p.m.