The 'Immaculate Reception'
December 23, 1972
Let's just set the stage for that December day back in 1972. Three Rivers Stadium, AFC Divisional Playoff Game vs. the Oakland Raiders. Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler had run 30 yards for a touchdown that gave his team a 7-6 lead with just 1:17 to play. Soon afterward, quarterback Terry Bradshaw and the rest of the Steelers offense were looking at a fourth-and-10 from the 40-yard line with just 22 seconds remaining.
Desperately searching for the team's first ever playoff win, it didn't look promising. But they never gave up. While under pressure, Bradshaw threw the ball in the direction of Frenchy Fuqua and as it arrived he 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."
Through the passage of time the excitement of the play has remained and was recently voted the best play in Steelers' history and also won the honor of best play in NFL history as a part of the NFL 100 celebration.
"I was in the right place at the right time, but I wasn't where I was supposed to be," said Harris recently. "Sometimes circumstances make you adjust and you make some moves that aren't drawn up certain ways.
"Bradshaw threw it downfield to Frenchy, we all know Jack Tatum, him and Frenchy collided, and I left the backfield and I remember nothing after that, which is quite strange. My mind is completely blank. I try to understand it. When you look at it, as low as the ball was coming back and how low the ball was, no one catches a ball like that. If you look at the situation, if I hesitated a few more seconds I am tackled, if I fall to the ground the game is over. I have no clue. Then to keep my balance and not break stride. That didn't make sense. I didn't even grasp everything at that time. The play has grown over the years.
"It's hard to put your hands around it, that in the 100 years of the NFL that play was chosen No. 1. It's special.
"I have to admit I have not gotten tired of it yet. It's still as exciting. If you look at the season, we had in 1972, after the first 40 years of the franchise, and then to have the incredible season, the team's first playoff win and to win that first one in dramatic fashion really started to change a lot of things. What really made it special and big was the decade that was to come and the importance of the play, setting the tone for winning. We proved that no matter how dire the situation that we can win. All of the things that followed made that play so big and important to Steelers' history."