Pittsburgh Steelers Best Plays: The Immaculate Reception - Pittsburgh Article

Pittsburgh Steelers Best Plays: The Immaculate Reception
Photo of Bill Mazeroski courtesy of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh Steelers Best Plays: The Immaculate Reception

May 4, 2017, 12:00 am

In 1972, the Pittsburgh Steelers completed their fortieth season by advancing to the playoffs for only the second time, which would lead to one of the team’s best plays ever. On December 23, with 22 seconds left in an AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Three Rivers Stadium - now replaced by PNC Park and Heinz Field - Pittsburgh trailed the Oakland Raiders, 7-6 and faced fourth-and-10 from its 40-yard line.

Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw dropped back to pass, but the Raiders flushed him out of the pocket to the right. He saw running back John (Frenchy) Fuqua over the middle at the Raiders' 35, and with defenders closing, Bradshaw fired a pass toward Fuqua. Fuqua, Raiders safety Jack Tatum and the ball converged simultaneously, and out popped the ball.

The Raiders began to celebrate, not realizing that rookie running back Franco Harris, trailing the play at the Raiders' 42, had picked the ball out of the air at his shoe tops and taken off down the left sideline. Some Raiders gave chase, but they could not stop Harris from running to the end zone.

It took a few moments to determine if a touchdown would be confirmed, in what became one of the Steelers’ most famous plays of all time. The Raiders argued that Fuqua had batted the ball to Harris (the rules of the time did not permit consecutive touches by offensive players).

Referee Fred Swearingen, after consulting with NFL supervisor of officials Art McNally, came back on the field and ruled the play a touchdown. Pittsburgh kicked the extra point to take a 13-7 lead with five seconds left, a score that was finalized moments later.

The rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Raiders is still very intense as a result of this game. This controversial play seemed to reverse a four-decade dry spell of non-playoff seasons for the Steelers and set the stage for a series of Super Bowl victories and playoff appearances, confirming the Steelers as a team to be reckoned with from that day forward.

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