Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Dec. 29

Let's get to it:

EDITOR'S NOTE: In this special installment of Asked and Answered, fans have submitted their memories and anecdotes about the Immaculate Reception. They are offered here without comment.

JOHN STASKO FROM CARY, NC: I saw the Immaculate Reception on television. I lived in Johnstown, Pa., and the blackout extended far enough to include our town. So many of us traveled to Bedford, Pa., and booked rooms along their "motel strip." We had 17 guys in a small room watching the game. When the pass got batted, we all groaned and then … a miracle. As we screamed for Franco Harris to reach the end zone, guys started piling out of the door to the room. As we stood in the parking lot, we looked down the strip and saw thousands of like-minded Steelers fans jumping up and down celebrating what will always be the greatest memory of my sports life.

DAVID BENDINELLI FROM WESTMINSTER, CO: A girl who worked for my mother in North Braddock, Pa., somehow got ahold of two tickets to the game. She invited me to accompany her. We had great seats, around the 40-yard line, in the lower section, behind the Steelers bench. After Franco's touchdown, people swarmed onto the field, of which I was one. I do not remember leaving my seat or jumping the railing to reach the field, as my next recollection is walking off the field with Jack Ham, who had his helmet in his hand and a gigantic smile on his face.

I am not sure why I did it, other than being caught up in the moment, but I reached down and pulled the chinstrap off Ham's helmet. He looked at me, never stopped smiling, and just kept walking. After Franco scored, there were still a few seconds left on the clock. On the ensuing kickoff, I was standing on the Steelers sideline next to punter Bobby Walden, and as Roy Gerela kicked off to Oakland, he kept repeating over and over, "Don't (mess) it up now, don't (mess) it up now," and he was using a more graphic verb than "mess."

I was a 21-year-old young man in 1972. I am now a not so very young man. While 50 years has passed in the blink of an eye, the memory of that game, and in particular that Immaculate play, has truly been a wonderful sports life highlight. A number of years ago, my son surprised me with a framed autographed picture of Jack Ham. Included in the frame, next to the signed picture, is a half-century old chinstrap, a special souvenir from the greatest play in NFL history.

JIM MAUSER FROM GREEN VALLEY, AZ: When Chuck Noll started to win football games, I bought season tickets and held onto them until I moved to Texas in 1979. I attended every game during that time. And I saw most every play of every one of those games. In the Immaculate Reception game, with about 18 seconds left and a timeout called, because I had a few beers and knowing where most of the stadium would be heading in just a few minutes, I decided to risk a trip to the restroom. I ran down, did what needed to be done, and rushed right back to my seat. I only had to go up one flight of stairs and as I neared the opening to the stadium, I heard a roar like I had never heard. I saw Franco Harris in the end zone and chaos on
the field and in the stands.

When I asked what happened my buddies couldn't tell me. When I got home and for days afterward, I saw that play on television. To this day I have seen that play hundreds of times, but on that day, I missed seeing history by perhaps 3 to 5 seconds. I missed the most famous play of all time despite seeing almost every other one for eight years.

VINCE CONSTABLE FROM WILKINS TOWNSHIP, PA: I thought the blackout rule was if it wasn't a sellout within 72 hours of the game, not just because it was a home game. Since the Steelers home sellout streak goes back to 1972 what's up?
ANSWER: The rule that lifted a blackout in the home team's market if a game was sold out 72 hours in advance didn't come until after the 1972 season. That's why the Immaculate Reception game was blacked out in the Greater Pittsburgh area. Keep reading for an illustration.

TIM CROWLEY FROM ST. CLAIRSVILLE, OH: I read John Stasko's submission in a recent Asked and Answered about watching the Immaculate Reception on television and what a great memory it was. One would think that being at the game in which the Immaculate Reception occurred would have produced an even better memory. Well, not necessarily … The only Steelers game my dad ever attended was the Immaculate Reception game. Sadly, the historic play transpired while he was in the men's room. I just thought I would share that little anecdote.

LARRY LININGER FROM MESA, AZ: I was working in Greenland during the 1972 season listening to Steelers games on AFRN. When they made the playoffs, I asked a friend to get a couple of tickets to a playoff game. (I was coming home for Christmas.) I had meant for me and him to go together, but he got me one ticket to the Divisional Round Game (vs. Oakland) and one for the AFC Championship Game (which turned out to be vs. Miami). It was a thrill to witness the Immaculate Reception in person and is a memory I treasure. The Steelers were leading Miami in the AFC Championship Game until the Larry Seiple fake punt and subsequent Miami touchdown. But this was the AFC Championship Game, and it was during Miami's perfect season. Why wasn't that game played in Miami?
ANSWER: The NFL didn't begin using teams' regular season records to determine homefield advantage in the playoffs until the 1975 season. Before that, the league used a rotational system to determine which team got the home game during the playoffs.

MIKE BUTLER FROM CORTLAND, OH: My Immaculate Reception memory: I was standing on the corner by my school, St. Joe's in Verona, Pa., waiting for my dad to pick me up from 6th grade basketball practice. All of a sudden, I see him coming, the tires squeal under hard braking and he yells to me, "Get in and don't talk! Something just happened. I think the Steelers scored!" He was listening to the game on the radio, and I can remember listening to the announcers sort through the confusion and Myron Cope yelling, "Holy Moley." I remember my dad telling me, "That's what makes Franco so good. He never quits. You should always keep that in mind in sports and in life." What we experienced together in those 5 or 10 minutes is one of my favorite memories of my dad. I wish he was here to attend the game with me on Christmas Eve, but I know he will be watching with me.

ED STREVIG FROM MECHANICSBURG, PA : I was 22 and a hardcore Steelers fan. I was watching the game in my parents' basement. I was going crazy waiting for the officials to decide whether it was a touchdown or not, and I said I would never watch another game if they took it away from my beloved Steelers. I screamed like crazy when they finally announced it.

STAN DRAKE FROM MCDONALD, PA: I was on weekend leave from the military, at my parents' home in Pittsburgh expecting to watch the Steelers-Raiders game on TV. Surprised that we couldn't watch the game on TV since it was blacked out locally, my dad and I listened to the entire game on the radio. Was the blackout limited to Allegheny County, or did the blackout extend to a certain radius from Pittsburgh?
ANSWER: The game was blacked out throughout the area the NFL recognized as the Pittsburgh viewing market, but I cannot give you any more specifics than that.

JOHN PUHALA FROM SPRINGFIELD, VA: I was 11 years old, with my family visiting a Great Aunt in Ohio for Christmas. We were there early enough to watch the entire game. My parents were in the kitchen with my Great Aunt cooking dinner, and my dad would pop in and out to see the score. I was on the couch basically biting my nails and pulling my hair as the game went back and forth. On the fourth-down play, I dropped to my knee and asked both God and Santa for a miracle. I started to cry as Terry Bradshaw nearly was sacked, but then as Franco caught the ball. I screamed, "Go, go, Franco," and I jumped up so hard I knocked over the coffee table in front of me. Everyone came in wondering what happened, and they saw me with my mouth wide open, jumping up and down, and pointing at the TV. Finally, I said, "We beat the Raiders," and then I also said a silent "thank you."

JAMES GAMBLE FROM FREDERICK, MD: I was only 9 years old, and I remember the game vividly. Since I was only 9 and never watched or saw a full game before, I found it exciting to watch my mom listen to the game on the radio since it was blacked out in the Pittsburgh area. The excitement was due to her reactions and how she explained to me what was actually happening. Her joy after the game was over, especially retelling the details of the game to my dad, made an ever-deeper impression on me than just listening to the game. The next day as we all gathered around the television to watch the game (on tape delay), I can recall how exciting and suspenseful it was, even though we knew the outcome. That day is when I became a life-long Steelers fan and haven't missed a game since. I know it might not be the best memory in comparison to the millions of fans who were in the stadium that day, but it is just as memorable to me as if I were. My mom made me a Steelers fan for life, and for that I am forever grateful.

JOE McKEOWN FROM HANAHAN, SC: I was 9 years old and living on Long Island, where my dad was stationed as a Marine. I was a Jets fan, and we would go watch them practice a lot. Then the Immaculate Reception happened. I've never lived in Pittsburgh like many great Steelers fans but when asked when I became a fan, I tell them with specificity that it was Dec. 23, 1972, while watching that game on TV. Haven't looked back since.

MATHEW TOTH FROM OLYMPIA, WA: I was a 19-year-old Military Policeman at Camp Casey, Korea, when it happened. Because of the time zone difference, it was Christmas Eve there. We were in the motor pool getting our jeeps ready for patrol when the Armed Forces Korea Network broke the news. I remember thinking it was the perfect Christmas gift.

JAMIE STRAHL FROM OTTAWA, ONTARIO, CANADA: In 1972 I was 13. Playing junior football. Being from Canada we had no local team. My closest friends were all Raiders or Cowboys fans. I had been a Steelers fan since Joe Greene was drafted in 1969. I was watching the Immaculate Reception game with my teammates who all were Raiders fans; I was the only Steelers fan. When that play happened my teammates were stunned, but I exploded in tears of joy. To this day they deny it was a catch and I rejoice in the history that day unleashed for fellow Steelers fans. In fact, when we get together, I always wear my Immaculate Reception T-shirt. We still play in ONTFL, no more tackle football at 63 years old. I even scored once on a somewhat similar deflection, and that one my Raiders loving teammates swear was a catch.

BETH FRANTZ FROM ALTOONA, PA: This is an incredible memory. I was 12 at the time, and my dad was at the game. I and my siblings and my mom were all gathered around the radio listening to the game, because it had been blacked out on TV. It was of course the final seconds, and we were losing, and we were all upset, mostly for our dad because he had endured so many tough Steelers losses but this one was gonna be the worst . When we heard the play happen, we couldn't believe it. We were all yelling and clapping and so happy for dad that he was there for what would become one of the greatest plays of all time. We all went to pick him up from the game only to find out that he, like Art Rooney Sr., left early, thinking it was to be yet another disappointing loss. He was in the tunnel, and like the Chief, heard the roar of the crowd and little did he know he was missing history in the making. Needless to say, he was sorry his missed seeing it in real time but happy that his beloved Steelers had finally won a playoff game.

MARTIN GRAHAM FROM TOLEDO, OH: I am a native Pittsburgher, 76 years of age, and have followed the Steelers my entire life. I was living in Douglasville, Pa., during the Immaculate Reception game. We traveled to Pittsburgh to be with my in-laws each Christmas. My wife kept nagging me to be on our way to Pittsburgh, but I just had to see this game. Turned out to be the Immaculate Reception game, and I am glad I delayed our trip. We left for Pittsburgh directly after the game and did not arrive until after midnight. The family was not happy with the late arrival, but I just had to stay and see this game. Now, my daughter is married to a devout Raiders fan, and he talks about how the Steelers stole that game from the Raiders. He still says it was an illegal catch. I just grin because I do not know to this day whether it was or was not. This one game changed the Steelers forever.

JIM SMITH FROM HUMMELSTOWN, PA: I was visiting my son who currently lives in Downtown Pittsburgh, just a few blocks from Acrisure Stadium and PNC Park. While walking to get a meal, we happened to come across the Immaculate Reception Monument along West General Robinson Street. It is a great monument, along with painted yard markers and an imprint of Franco's left foot. I, of course, had my son take my picture leaning forward, balancing on my left foot just like Franco Harris at the Immaculate moment! What fun! I show the picture to everyone.

MURRAY SHERMAN FROM CHICAGO, IL: Born in Pittsburgh, my admiration for the Steelers began in 1950, and my father took me to many games at Forbes Field and Pitt Stadium. I was a student in 1972 living in Philadelphia with my in-laws. I was on a ladder in their home helping to paint the walls and ceiling of a sitting room in the house while watching the game on TV. Painting while watching such a game is not a good idea. I got so excited when Franco crossed the goal line that I violently knocked over the paint can and distributed white paint all over the floor, on much of the furniture, and some of my brother-in-law.

PHIL CONTE FROM REIDSVILLE, NC: Don't know if this qualifies, but I was at the game with my wife, my cousin and his wife. I remember a great defense and a lot of excitement and nervous enthusiasm in the stadium. Then Ken Stabler happened. He got outside the pocket and ran down the sideline for the go-ahead touchdown. The inebriated fan sitting in front of us turned and said to all four of us, "The same (bleeping) Steelers. They just waited a little longer." A few minutes later the Immaculate Reception occurred and when it sunk in, the same guy raised his hands, turned to my wife, almost in tears, grabbed my wife and started hugging and kissing her. I had no one to hug and, to this day, have no clue who that guy was.

NATHAN HEDDLESTON FROM KENT, OH: My family has a tradition, started by my brother, a season ticketholder, of taking a picture with the Franco statue every time any of us are at the Pittsburgh International Airport. Being 43 years old, I don't have a personal account of the Immaculate Reception, but as a third generation Steelers fan, hearing my late father tell it and retell it – about how Franco knew to "be around the ball" – has to be the next best thing to having experienced it. With two grandfathers having been in the steel industry and the one who was the Steelers fan and made it a family requirement, along with both my parents, my three siblings and me (as well as our spouses), 11 in the next generation, and the first of the new generation on-the-way, all of whom are Steelers fanatics, I couldn't be more grateful for the play that changed the course of the greatest franchise in sports. I even remember my soon-to-be-brothers-in-law both sitting down with my dad individually to tell him that they were moving their fan loyalties to the Steelers as they were joining our family. And they stuck to it through 33 years and counting. This passion is shared by families throughout Steelers Nation, and that's what makes us a such uniquely special fan base. Thanks to Franco, Terry, and everyone else from The Dynasty for being the catalyst that started this wonderful way of life.

JEFFERSON MORAN FROM GALLOWAY, OH: We lived eastern in Ohio at that time. We were huge Steeler fans and still are. My father-in-law attended the game. However, when Oakland scored to take the lead, he got mad and left. He heard the Immaculate Reception on the radio after going through the Fort Pitt tunnel on his way home to Ohio.

KEVIN McDEVITT FROM WHITEHALL, PA: On Dec. 23, 1972, I was 12 years old and home alone for the first time. No babysitter. My family was out preparing for Santa. I was raised in New Jersey, but I was a fan of the Steelers because I was a fan of Franco Harris. I became devoted to him when he was at Penn State, and my devotion followed him to Pittsburgh (that kind of worked out for this football fan). I was on one end of the couch, and my snoozing pup was on the other. I can still remember the dreadful but momentary devastation when Jack Tatum hit the ball out of the picture. But then, suddenly and without warning, here comes No. 32, heading towards the end zone, and infamy. One thing that stuck in my heart and mind was that, in my excitement, I had inadvertently roused my dog. She was fixed on me, standing and wagging her tail as fast as she ever did, a doggie-smile on her face. She didn't know what had happened, but she knew something great had happened. Good dog!

JOE HOWARD FROM GLENMOORE, PA: My father stood in line for hours in the wet and cold to buy tickets for the both of us to attend the Steelers first playoff games during the 1970s dynasty. While the day was fun, at the end of the game we were sure the Steelers couldn't pull off the win vs. the Raiders and almost left to beat the traffic. I thank God that we stayed. We were in the opposite end zone from where Franco scored, and we really didn't know what happened until we saw the touchdown signal from the referee. What a fantastic memory of time with my dad.

MICK MCGUIRE FROM LA QUINTA, CA: The Immaculate Reception … living in Redondo Beach, on the second floor … the Raiders scored, and it looked like the end. Frustrated, sitting on the couch, I grabbed a cushion in frustration and threw it across the room. Unfortunately, the screen was open, the cushion sailed through the door, over the balcony and into the street below. Racing down the stairs, waving my arms, a truck was just about to run over the cushion. I ran into the street, retrieved the cushion, leaped up the stairs, back to the living room just in time to see Bradshaw getting rushed, the ball bouncing … then the miracle. As Bob Prince used to say, "We had 'em all the way!"

STEPHEN WEYANT FROM SHREWSBURY, PA: At the time I was working in Union City, Pa., and I was traveling to York, Pa., and listening to the game on the radio. I was on I-80 traveling in a snowstorm. When it happened, I was going crazy pounding my steering wheel and trying not go into a slide on the highway. I couldn't wait to get home to see the replay on TV.

ED BROWN FROM DANBURY TOWNSHIP, OH: I was in the Army stationed in Virginia in December 1972. I was born in Pittsburgh, had been following the Steelers since the late 1950s. Housesitting for guys on leave, I was alone watching the game. When that ball came off the Fuqua/Tatum collision my heart sank, then turned to elation as Franco went the distance. One of the best Christmases ever.

JACK LEWIS FROM BRIDGEVILLE, PA: Unlike the seemingly millions who either attended or watched the game on "local" TV, six of us, aware of the local 50-mile blackout rule, jumped into the car, drove 50 miles to New Castle, Pa., and stopped at the first open bar to watch the game. We were asked if we were really up there from Pittsburgh and warmly welcomed. When Franco made the catch, one of our guys jumped out of his chair so hard this chair hit the back of his leg, flew into the air and broke when it hit the floor. Shouts, hugs, and handshakes all around, and we didn't pay for another drink. I never have forgotten that day. We returned the next week for the Miami game only to have our Super Bowl dreams crushed by a fake punt. But we knew that the tide had changed, and that we would become champions.

ROGER SORIANO FROM ANNAPOLIS, MD: I grew up in Beaver Falls, Pa., and have been a Steeler fan since they hired Bill Austin, who was the coach before Chuck Noll. Some of my favorite players were John Henry Johnson, Bill Saul, and Roy Jefferson. When the Steelers made the playoffs in 1972 my friends and I rented a motel room in Boardman, Ohio to watch the game. We got there around noon and the place was very quiet. Well, when Franco caught that pass, we ran out into the parking lot yelling and screaming. Much to our surprise the parking lot was filled with Steelers fans who also came to watch the game. It was a celebration I'll never forget. By the way, in the famous postgame photo of a guy wearing a burgundy jacket and hugging Terry Bradshaw was Bradshaw's first brother-in law. He was my Algebra teacher in high school.

DONALD GRAHAM FROM TAMPA, FL: I was born and raised in the Beechview area of Pittsburgh. As a young boy, my dad had Steelers' season tickets, so I got to go to one or two games a year starting in the 1950s. I became a solid Steelers' Fan. Fast forward to December 1972, and I was an active-duty Air Force Officer (pilot) and had returned from my second Vietnam tour (278 Combat Missions). I was stationed at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. Because we lived in Dayton we were outside the "blackout zone" and could receive the Steelers-Raiders game on live TV. I was on the edge of my seat as Terry faded back and threw the last-ditch pass. I couldn't believe my eyes when Franco scooped up the ball and began his run to the end zone. I jumped off the couch and started jumping up and down and screaming. My wife came out of the kitchen to see what was wrong. When Franco scored the touchdown, I continued jumping up and down, and at that moment in my mind that became the greatest play in Steelers' history.

KENNETH THISSELL FROM ST. JOHNSBURY, VT: I was a young boy living in Southern California and was a big Los Angeles Rams fan. Then one year out of the blue, they fired George Allen. I can remember the next couple days in the newspapers, the photos of Rams players in dark glasses looking very upset about his firing. I was very upset, too, and vowed to never follow the Rams again. I made the decision to find another team. I liked the black-and-gold colors of the Steelers and heard my older brother talk about a blond quarterback named Terry Bradshaw. Me being a blond surfing punk decided to put my allegiance behind the Steelers. My parents had been divorced for a while and I would go to my father's house on weekends, and we would always watch NFL Football. I can remember that as the Steelers-Raiders game went on, I was getting pretty bummed, and my dad was saying, "I'm sorry, Kenny, it's not your year." He was behind his bar as I was pacing in front of the TV. You know what happens next, and I was jumping up and down and screaming and crying. I learned that day that you never know what is going to happen, and so you should always stay with your team. My dad and I always remembered that day. I'm now 65, and he passed away in 2011. Now I live in Vermont, and I am always in front of the TV on Sundays with him watching every Steelers game.

DAVE CONOVER FROM SAN DIEGO, CA: Offensive lineman Gordon Gravelle, the Steelers No. 2 pick in the 1972 NFL Draft, was in uniform on Dec. 23, 1972, and a 17-year-old – me – was sitting in the seat next to Gordon's wife, Molly, who was my cousin. As the game wound down, we stood up and turned to head towards the exit as was customary for wives of players who would meet their husbands in a section of the locker room after the game. Climbing the stairs, we heard the roar of the crowd and turned to see the commotion on the field. I looked at the scoreboard and did not believe what I saw. To this day, I recount: "Yes, I was at the game that day but did not actually see the play — an admission very few can claim."

REGIS FITZGIBBON FROM WATERFORD, PA: I was working at Three Rivers Stadium for ARA Services (Teamsters Local 250), pouring and capping Coca-Cola in the vendor commissary on the Second Level near the 20-yard line. As it was very near the end of the game and we were done pouring, I stepped out to lean on the concrete block wall at the back of the section and watch the end of the game. As play developed, I could see Terry Bradshaw (with 20/20 vison back then) getting ready to throw that ball a long way. As he released it, I followed the path toward Frenchy Fuqua, who as I recall was in the direct line of site of everyone watching in the section. As soon as the ball was knocked backward and looked to be incomplete, I turned and began to head back for closing cleanup. Then there was a huge ROAR! I ran down the aisle to the rail to see what was going on. I turned and asked, "What happened?" I looked up and down the rows of fans who had an unimpeded view of the play. None of the dazed fans said a word ... Until one guy looked at me and said, "I don't know - but Franco's in the end zone."

TIM MAINS FROM ASHEVILLE, NC: I was home from college for the holiday when a friend called at 11:15 p.m. to ask if I had seen the WTAE-TV news that playoff tickets were going on sale the next morning at 10 a.m. That friend asked if I wanted to drive an hour into Pittsburgh and stand all night in line at Gate A to get tickets. I woke my dad to ask permission to use his car, and his response was, "Only if you buy me a ticket, too." He later referred to that as one of the best decisions he ever made.