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The Immaculate Reception 

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 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 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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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

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.

FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.
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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright İ 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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