It was a game that took place 27 years
ago today - 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.
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
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 Steeler 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 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 backwards 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."
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About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath,
The Sporting News, among other publications.
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Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz Frommer are the authors of
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