|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.
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."
Download Immaculate Reception Audio
Twenty-two seconds remaining - and Bradshaw is back and looking again - Bradshaw running out of the pocket - looking for somebody to throw to - fires it downfield - and there's a collision - and it's caught out of the air - the ball is pulled in by Franco Harris.
|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).|
|Steelers: Harris, 18 for 64 - Fuqua, 16 for 25 - Bradshaw, 2 for 19
Raiders: Smith, 14 for 57 - Hubbard, 14 for 44 - Stabler, 1 for 30, 1 TD - Davis, 2 for 7
|Steelers: Harris, 5 for 96, 1 TD - Shanklin, 3 for 55 - Fuqua, 1 for 11 - McMakin, 1 for 9 - Young, 1 for 4
Raiders: Chester, 3 for 40 - Biletnikoff, 3 for 28 - Smith, 2 for 8 - Banaszak, 1 for 12 - Siani, 1 for 7 - J. Otto, 1 for 5 - Hubbard, 1 for 2
|Steelers: Bradshaw, 11 of 25 for 175, 1 TD, 1 INT
Raiders: Stabler, 6 of 12 for 57 - Lamonica, 6 of 18 for 45, 2 INT
|42 - The number of yards Raiders quarter-back Ken Stabler scrambled for a touchdown to put the Raiders in front, 7-6, with 73 seconds remaining in the game.
6 - The number of plays in the drive that culminated with Harris' game-winning touchdown.
2 - The number of passes on that final drive that Tatum broke up, putting Pittsburgh in a fourth-and-10 situation.
22 - The number of seconds remaining when "the Immaculate Reception" play began.
42 - The number of yards Franco ran with the ball after catching it.
15 - The approximate number of minutes it took for the refs to decide what the proper call was and to clear the field at Three Rivers Stadium.
1 - The number of touchdown catches Harris had during the regular season.
0 - The number of NFL titles the Steelers won in the 40 seasons before the 1972 season.
4 - The number of Super Bowls the Steelers have won since the Immaculate Reception.
1 - The number of division titles the Steelers won in the 40 seasons before the 1972 season.
14 - The number of division titles the Steelers have won since the Immaculate Reception.
50,327 - The number of fans in attendance for the game.
0 - The number of camera angles that showed conclusively whether the catch was legal.
1 - The number of people Fuqua told what really happened: Steelers owner Art Rooney. Fuqua says hell someday reveal whether the catch should have counted.
2 - The number of people who are credited with coining the term "Immaculate Reception." Season ticket-holders Sharon Levosky and Michael Ord called Steelers announcer Myron Cope during his post-game show and suggested he use it.
|"We got fogged in at the start of the trip and nothing went right from then on. You play 21 ball games for this moment - fourth down. Then the ball bounces off one man's chest into another man's arms and it's over. No tomorrow." Raiders head coach John Madden.
"Franco made that play because he never quit on the play. He kept running, he kept hustling. Good things happen to those who hustle." Steelers head coach Chuck Noll
"It's a helluva way to lose. He just threw the ball up for grabs, a desperation pass, and it bounced into a guy's hands. One fluke play. I guess that's football, but I can't accept it." Raiders tackle Gene Upshaw
"I don't want to talk." Raiders tight end Raymond Chester.
"I've played football since the second grade and nothing like that ever happened. It'll never happen again." Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw
"I went from the depths of despair to the apex of ecstasy." Steelers center Ray Mansfield
"I didn't see the play. I was talking to the man upstairs. I didn't want to interrupt what I was doing. Next thing I know, the guys are jumping around and there goes Franco and I'm saying, 'Lord, I hope he has the ball." Steelers defensive end L.C. Greenwood