The Immaculate Reception

Graeme
By
Posted: February 5, 2017


“The Immaculate Reception” is the name given to a 60-yard touchdown play that helped the Pittsburg Steelers win an AFC divisional playoff game over the Oakland Raiders with 5 seconds left in the game on December 23, 1972. The play, which was chosen the greatest and most controversial of all times by NFL Films helped the Steelers secure their first playoff win for four decades and created a bitter rivalry between the two teams.

With a bit over one minute left in the game, the Steelers were leading the game 6-0 but Raiders Quarterback Ken Stabler scored a touchdown to give the Raiders a 7-6 lead. The Raiders steeled their defense looking to hang for the win but the Steelers sent wave after wave of attack. Five times, the Raiders defense led by Jack Tatum stymied passes from Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw. However with 30 seconds left, yet another forward pass by Bradshaw from the 20-yard line towards halfback John Fuqua hit Tatum just as he collided with Fuqua, with the latter falling to the ground and the ball bouncing back several yards. Fullback Franco Harris picked the ball before it hit the ground and ran 42 yards to make the touchdown with 5 seconds left on the clock. The Steelers went ahead 13-7 and won the game.

With a bit over one minute left in the game, the Steelers were leading the game 6-0 but Raiders Quarterback Ken Stabler scored a touchdown to give the Raiders a 7-6 lead. The Raiders steeled their defense looking to hang for the win but the Steelers sent wave after wave of attack. Five times, the Raiders defense led by Jack Tatum stymied passes from Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw. However with 30 seconds left, yet another forward pass by Bradshaw from the 20-yard line towards halfback John Fuqua hit Tatum just as he collided with Fuqua, with the latter falling to the ground and the ball bouncing back several yards. Fullback Franco Harris picked the ball before it hit the ground and ran 42 yards to make the touchdown with 5 seconds left on the clock. The Steelers went ahead 13-7 and won the game.

One detail that the referee had to decide and which caused the intense controversy associated with the play was who between Fuqua and Tatum the ball had hit before sailing back to Harris. With the help of television replays for the first time in American sport, referee Fred Swearingen confirmed that indeed the ball had touched Tatum. At the time, the NFL rulebook stipulated that once an offensive player touches a pass, all other offensive players from the same team cannot catch the pass. If it had been ruled that the ball had hit Fuqua first, then Harris’s catch would have been illegal and a turnover would have been awarded in favor of the Raiders, surely handing them the win.

Aftermath of the Immaculate Pass

The name Immaculate Reception in reference to the famous was first used on air by then Pittsburg Steelers announcer Myron Cope. On the night of the game, Cope was preparing to go on air to give the game report when his phone rang and a Woman who said her name was Sharon Levosky told Cope that her friend Michael Ord had suggested the name for the Harris’s dramatic catch. Cope liked the name and used it on air and it has stuck to this day.

Despite being confirmed by TV replays, many people remained unconvinced about the legality of the play for many years after the game. One of those people was Tatum, who insisted after the game that the touchdown was fraudulent, claiming that he only touched Fuqua and not the ball. Legendary Raiders head coach John Madden did not contest the play and blamed their own lack of concentration for the loss. The Steelers proceeded to the AFC championship game where they played the Miami Dolphins but they lost 21-17 and the Dolphins went on to win Super Bowl VII.

Many Raiders fans believed that the league deliberately shortchanged the Raiders and this led to a rivalry between the Raiders and the other teams, which was christened “Raiders versus the World.” The NFL Network in 2007 in fact ranked this rivalry as the biggest feud in the history of the NFL. In 1978, the league amended its rule books and repealed the restriction on deflection of passes which means that had the Immaculate Reception happened after 1978, the controversy would not have ensued.

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