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Remembering Franco Harris’s ‘Immaculate Reception,’ the NFL’s biggest play


Within the days earlier than he died this week at 72, Pittsburgh Steelers Corridor of Fame working again Franco Harris did interviews about his central function within the “Immaculate Reception,” which occurred 50 years in the past Friday and ushered in a dominant period for a franchise that had seven profitable seasons and nary a playoff win in 4 a long time of existence.

Reliving the play voted the best in NFL historical past forward of the league’s one centesimal season in 2019 by no means appeared to get outdated for Harris.

“There’s nonetheless that unbelievable feeling, a bit chill within the air,” he advised WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR information station, on Monday, when requested what it was prefer to see replays of his controversial 60-yard landing half a century later. “I’m saying, ‘Wow, is that me?’”

On Dec. 23, 1972, the AFC Central champion Steelers hosted the AFC West champion Oakland Raiders in a first-round playoff sport at Three Rivers Stadium. Pittsburgh’s solely earlier postseason look was a 21-0 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1947.

The Steelers took a 6-0 lead on Roy Gerela’s second area aim with fewer than 4 minutes remaining, and that figured to be sufficient for a Pittsburgh protection that hadn’t allowed a landing in its ultimate three common season video games. However backup quarterback Ken Stabler capped an 80-yard drive with a 30-yard landing run on a busted play on Oakland’s ensuing possession, placing the Raiders forward 7-6 with 1:13 to play and setting the stage for Harris’s heroics.

On fourth and 10 on the Pittsburgh 40-yard line with 22 seconds on the clock, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw dropped again, rolled to his proper and rifled a move within the route of working again John “Frenchy” Fuqua over the center.

Jack Tatum, the Raiders’ hard-hitting security, broke on the ball and collided with Fuqua simply because it arrived on the Oakland 35-yard line. Tatum’s proper forearm caught Fuqua within the head, knocking him to the turf. The ball ricocheted again towards midfield and hung within the air simply lengthy sufficient for Harris to grab it earlier than it hit the bottom. Harris headed towards the sideline, stiff-armed Raiders defensive again Jimmy Warren on the 15-yard line and raced into the tip zone with 5 seconds remaining.

“Proper place on the proper time,” a smiling Harris mentioned within the Steelers’ locker room after the sport. “A bit little bit of luck.”

Harris’s task on the play — 66 Possibility — was to dam the skin linebacker. In interviews over the following years, Harris, who was a rookie in 1972, talked about a mantra that had been instilled in him by Coach Joe Paterno throughout his faculty profession at Penn State and which served him effectively: “Go to the ball.” Harris had began upfield a pair seconds earlier than Bradshaw’s toss.

“Don’t ask me what occurred subsequent,” Bradshaw advised reporters afterward. “Someone decked me, however I heard the shouting. After I received up, there was Franco, on the 5, going to the flags. I used to be a whoopin’ and a hollerin’ all the way in which all the way down to kiss him.”

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Bradshaw wasn’t the one one not sure about what had transpired. There was confusion and controversy, which solely added to the mystique of the play. At difficulty was whether or not Bradshaw’s move ricocheted off Tatum or Fuqua; an NFL rule on the time prohibited consecutive touches by two offensive gamers.

Tatum maintained he didn’t contact the ball.

“I heard the ball bounce away from Tatum and me and mentioned to myself, ‘Properly, that’s all for this yr,’” Fuqua advised reporters. “I by no means actually noticed the ball hit Tatum or anyone. I heard it. Then I used to be flattened and was laying there when everyone began going loopy.”

As a whole lot of followers poured out of the stands, referee Fred Swearingen conferred along with his crew after which used the telephone within the Pittsburgh Pirates’ dugout to name the press field. After talking with Artwork McNally, the NFL’s supervisor of officers, Swearingen emerged from the dugout and signaled landing. It took 10 minutes to clear the followers from the sphere so Gerela might kick the additional level.

Raiders Coach John Madden was satisfied the ball by no means hit Tatum and that Swearingen had known as the press field to ask for a ruling primarily based on a tv replay. (The league wouldn’t introduce immediate replay till 1986.) Jim Kensil, the NFL’s govt director, denied Madden’s declare and mentioned Swearingen was “merely clearing up a complicated scenario.”

“There was no approach they have been going to name it another approach with all these individuals on the sphere,” Madden, nonetheless stewing over the result of the sport, advised reporters again in Oakland two days later. “Someone would have been killed.”

In Pittsburgh, the Steelers’ first playoff win marked the daybreak of a brand new day for the franchise.

“The God of all of the losers who’ve ever been smiled down by a ghostly grey sky yesterday, and within the final determined seconds of a imply, bitterly-fought soccer sport did actually wondrous issues,” Phil Musick wrote within the Pittsburgh Press. “Historical past would have it no different approach. And after 40 infinite years of spilling salt and breaking mirrors and strolling underneath ladders, the Steelers have been smiled upon by a benevolent destiny.”

The Steelers misplaced to the Dolphins, 21-17, within the AFC championship sport the next week, regardless of Harris’s 16 carries for 76 yards. Pittsburgh returned to the AFC championship sport in 1974 and defeated the Raiders en path to profitable its first of 4 Tremendous Bowl titles within the ’70s.

“Many have mentioned, and I agree, that the ‘Immaculate Reception’ marked the turning level in franchise historical past,” Steelers President Artwork Rooney II mentioned in September, when the workforce introduced Harris would turn out to be the third Steelers participant to have his quantity retired at halftime of Saturday night time’s sport in opposition to the Las Vegas Raiders.

In a 1997 column for the New York Occasions to mark the twenty fifth anniversary of Harris’s miraculous landing, legendary Pittsburgh radio analyst and sportscaster Myron Cope defined the origin of the play’s nickname, which he launched to the plenty. Because the story goes, Steelers fan Michael Ord stood on a chair at a downtown bar after the sport, tapped his glass with a spoon and declared, “At the present time will eternally be referred to as the Feast of the Immaculate Reception!” Ord then satisfied his pal, Sharon Levosky, to name the WTAE newsroom and share the intelligent moniker with Cope.

“I heard out Sharon and mentioned: ‘That’s incredible. Let me give it some thought,’” Cope wrote. “The Immaculate Reception? Tasteless? I contemplated the matter for 15 seconds and cried out ‘Whoopee!’ Having conferred upon Franco’s landing its identify for 11 o’clock information viewers to embrace, I settle for neither credit score nor, must you maintain the moniker to be impious, blame.”

In the identical column, Cope, who was Jewish, declared Franco’s catch “kosher” primarily based on a frame-by-frame overview of video shot by a WTAE cameraman.

“No query about it — Bradshaw’s move struck Tatum squarely on his proper shoulder,” Cope wrote. “I imply, I noticed it.”

Harris might by no means say for certain whether or not the ball ricocheted off Tatum or Fuqua, as a result of he didn’t bear in mind a lot of something concerning the play earlier than he reached the tip zone. The enjoyment the “Immaculate Reception” sparked for him, his teammates and a technology of Steelers followers by no means light.

“Fifty years in the past,” Harris mentioned Tuesday on SiriusXM Radio, “and it nonetheless feels model new.”



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