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The Immaculate Reception
It was a game that took place on December 23, 1972. It was a game that had perhaps the most fantastic finish in the history of professional football. It was a game that pitted the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Oakland Raiders in an American Football Conference Divisional playoff game.
Franco Harris right from the outset, it was a ferocious defensive struggle. At the half, the score was 0-0. The game's first score did not come until Roy Gerela put the icing on a 55-yard drive with an 18-yard field goal in the third quarter, lifting Pittsburgh up 3-0.
In the fourth quarter, Gerela made the score 6-0 when he kicked another field goal from 29 yards out. That field goal seemed to wake up the Raiders, triggering their best drive of the day. Ken Stabler, who had come in to replace Daryle Lamonica at quarterback, read a Steelers blitz, circled left end, and scampered 30 yards for a touchdown. Stabler gave the Raiders a 7-6 advantage with 1:13 to go.
Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw moved his team forward, completing two passes but found himself facing a fourth down with 10 yards to go from his own 40-yard line, and but 22 seconds left in the game. The play was designed with Barry Pearson as Bradshaw's first passing option. Running back, John "Frenchy" Fuqua was the second. But "at first, all that could go wrong with the play went wrong." Bradshaw recalled.
One of the things that definitely went wrong was that Bradshaw was flushed from the pocket. Franco Harris, spotting his quarterback in trouble, left his backfield slot and positioned himself as a potential receiver. Bradshaw fired the ball 20 yards downfield to Fuqua. The ball and Raiders' defensive back Jack Tatum hit Fuqua at the same time. "Frenchy" fell to the ground, and the ball flew in the air backward about 15 yards.
Seemingly coming out of nowhere, Franco Harris caught the ball just off his shoetops and raced down the field on his way to the end zone. It was an incredible 42-yard run that completed a 60-yard scoring play.
Bedlam was on parade in Pittsburgh as fans and players stormed out onto the playing field. There were still 15 seconds left on the clock, and a huge argument developed as to the validity of the Harris touchdown. Oakland argued that the pass was illegal because it bounced off Fuqua to Harris. The rule back then stated that a pass could not be tipped from one offensive player to another without a defensive player also touching the ball.
But referee Fred Swearingen's ruling was that Tatum had also touched the ball and that it was a legal catch and a touchdown. The game's final score: Pittsburgh 13, Oakland 7.
The game would always be remembered for the Franco Harris catch - "The Immaculate Reception." More important to fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, that game set in motion the groundwork for the rest of the 1970s, a decade in which the Steelers would win four Super Bowl titles.
And Terry Bradshaw - to this day half in jest, half for real says: "That was the play we had drawn up - Franco was the receiver all the way."
The Final Drive
Down Ball On Play 1st-and-10 Steelers 20 Bradshaw passes to Harris for 9 yards. 2nd-and-1 Steelers 29 Bradshaw passes to Fuqua for 11 yards (53 seconds left). 1st-and-10 Steelers 40 Bradshaw's pass for McMakin broken up by Tatum (37 seconds left). 2nd-and-10 Steelers 40 Bradshaw's pass for Shanklin incomplete (31 seconds left). 3rd-and-10 Steelers 40 Bradshaw's pass for McMakin broken up by Tatum (26 seconds left). 4th-and-10 Steelers 40 Bradshaw's pass for Fuqua broken up by defender. Football bounces off Tatum into hands of Harris who runs into end zone for a 60-yard touchdown (22 seconds left).