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An 'Immaculate' Anniversary

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, the greatest play in NFL history. The Steelers will celebrate the anniversary while honoring the memory of Franco Harris, who passed away on Dec. 21.

It is a play that will forever be a part of Steelers history.

A play fans from all generations have talked about for years and will continue to talk about for years to come.

A play that happened 50 years ago, on Saturday, Dec. 23, 1972.

A play that was voted the greatest play in NFL history.

A play that quite simply, was immaculate.

The Steelers were hosting the then Oakland Raiders in an AFC Divisional Playoff game in front of 50,327 fans at Three Rivers Stadium.

Because of television rules, the game wasn't shown within a 75-mile radius of Pittsburgh, forcing fans not lucky enough to have tickets to either listen to the radio or travel outside of the market to watch the game at area hotels or homes of friends and family.

Those who packed Three Rivers definitely brought the energy of the entire city with them, hoping and dreaming for the team's first-ever playoff win.

The game was a defensive battle through the first half, scoreless as both teams headed into the locker room. In the second half the Steelers were able to get on the board thanks to two field goals by Roy Gerela, giving them a 6-0 lead.

The Raiders weren't to be denied though. Raiders' quarterback Kenny Stabler got his team fired up when he raced for a 30-yard touchdown run to give the Raiders a 7-6 lead with just 1:17 to play.

Things looked bleak for the Steelers, as they quickly found themselves in a hole, their season possibly coming to a disappointing end. But they never gave up.

Quarterback Terry Bradshaw and the offense was facing an intimidating fourth-and-10 from their own 40-yard line with just 22 seconds remaining.

While under pressure, Bradshaw threw the ball in the direction of Frenchy Fuqua and as the ball arrived, Fuqua collided with Raiders' safety Jack Tatum, the ball ricocheted back and Franco Harris miraculously scooped it out of the air and took off running for a 60-yard touchdown reception that gave the Steelers the 13-7 win and a wild celebration ensued.

"I don't think the fans knew what happened," said Fuqua, who was knocked to the ground after the collision. "Everyone I spoke to after I got up off the ground said what happened, what happened. Someone said it's a miracle. Then we had to go through that long, long wait when the referees went in there to look at replay and it seemed like an eternity."

It might have been appropriate to have to wait an eternity for a play that will live for eternity.

"One of the most exhilarating things to watch during that play is what happened after the play," said Harris. "When you see the fans' reaction and how they jumped on the field, hugging players, players hugging fans. That is a great visual and a great feeling to see that moment. It was like the whole stadium erupted and that feeling that everybody had on that field. You could see it and you could feel it through the film, how special it was."

Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr. was in the press box watching the game, but after Stabler scored he headed to the locker room to greet the team and try and console them. While he was headed there, Harris scored.

"I mention to people that The Chief, Mr. Art Rooney Sr., got on the elevator thinking we lost and when he got off, he got off a winner," said Harris.

While Art Rooney Sr. missed the play, his grandson and current Steelers President Art Rooney II was on the sidelines watching it all up close, working as a part-time equipment manager while still in college.

"The play happened almost right in front of me," said Rooney. "I don't think any of us were expecting anything. After Ken Stabler made his run and we were down to our fourth down there, I can't say that any of us were expecting what happened at that point, that's for sure."

When Harris scooped the ball into his hands and took it 60 yards for the game winning touchdown, Three Rivers Stadium exploded.

"People came running out of the stands," said Rooney. "It was just chaos. It was just a wild scene. A player that had played for us back in the sixties named Brady Keys came running out of the stands, and he came running out to me and got me in a bear hug, was jumping up and down and I almost passed out. It was just a wild, wild scene.

"Most people don't remember that we actually finished the game with people on the field. The officials decided that it would be too hard to clear the field, and there were only a few seconds left. We ran the extra point and just the last couple of plays with people surrounding the field. One of my jobs at that point was kind of watching our equipment. We were trying to make sure we got our equipment off the field. I'm pretty sure we lost a few pieces of equipment to the fans that day.
"It was a wild, wild scene."

Through the passage of time the excitement of the play has remained and will always remain something nobody in Steelers Nation will ever forget, whether they saw it happen in person or learned about it years later.

"The play was special in so many ways," said Harris. "Part of it was because of the prior history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The prior fan reaction and feeling about the team. People always said the Steelers found a way to lose. I look at this play and we found a way to win. Even though we needed something immaculate to make it happen, we found a way to win. What made it special is that drive and feeling and attitude of finding a way to win has never left.

"This play started our first step into what was to become an incredible run that continues today."

As a part of the 50th Anniversary celebration the Steelers will retire Harris' No. 32 jersey on Saturday night at halftime of the game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Harris will join the ranks of the true elite in Steelers history, Ernie Stautner, No. 70, and Joe Greene, No. 75, the only other two players who have had their jerseys retired.

Fans from around the world can watch the halftime presentation live on, the team's official mobile app, and on social media on Steelers Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

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