The Immaculate Reception

Today for our "On This Day..." feature, we are taking a look back at the December 23, 1972 Immaculate Reception of Franco Harris:

In this memorable game, after forty years of being a perennial loser, the Steelers trailed 7-6 in the final minutes after a Ken Stabler touchdown run.  On fourth-and-ten from their own 35, Terry Bradshaw's pass down the field for Frenchy Fuqua was deflected by either the Raiders' DB Jack Tatum or Fuqua, and it was "caught out of the air" by Harris, who raced down the sideline for the winning score.  (See above video.)  After some debate by the officials, (had the pass only touched Fuqua it would have been a foul, as NFL rules at the time did not permit an offensive player to catch a forward pass that had been touched only by another offensive player.  That rule was rescinded after 1978) the play was ruled a touchdown and Pittsburgh won 13-7.  They went on to lose to the undefeated Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship Game, but this was the beginning of their dynasty, as they went on to win four of the next seven Super Bowls.

The game was not broadcast in Pittsburgh.  1972 was the last year that all home games were blacked-out in home cities, and since the beginning of the 1973 season, every Steelers game has sold-out and has been televised locally.

The NFL Films footage of the play may have led
to speculation -- was the play legal?
The clip you see above was from when NBC re-aired the original footage at halftime of the 1997 AFC Championship on January 11, 1998.  When they aired this, I believe they promoted this at the time as being the first time that the footage had been aired since the game.  Many people, including Gene Upshaw and John Madden, believed that the play should have been nullifed for being an illegal catch.  The NFL Films version of the highlight (this still to the right is from that footage), which had been seen repeatedly over the previous twenty-five years, did not show the collision, and that may have added fuel to the fire.  This NBC footage, which many people were seeing for the first time in 1998, however, I believe ended the speculation.  It is clear that Tatum must have touched the ball, for I don't see how, with the direction that Fuqua was running, his momentum alone would have caused the ball to ricochet back that far to Harris.  It doesn't matter if Fuqua touched it or not, only that had Tatum not touched it would it have been illegal.  (Unless, of course it was Tatum's momentum into Fuqua that caused Fuqua to hit the ball hard enough.)

The only remaining dispute was whether or not Harris cleanly caught the ball before it touched the ground.  Again the NFL Films version of the replay doesn't show that clearly, either.  But upon viewing the NBC replay, it is fairly clear that the catch was clean as well.

We are proud to add this game to Gridiron Uniform Database's collection of randomly added single-game matchups.

You can view other randomly added past games here.

1 comment:

  1. It seems amazing that Ken Stabler's scrambling ability would have been the story had the "IR" never happened--given the fact that he was a statue behind center for the last 6-7 years of his career.



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