Missing the 'Immaculate' shot
Bob McCartney has filmed a countless number of plays in Steelers history, but there is one he missed
By Teresa Varley Dec 20, 2022

In his 50 seasons working for the Steelers, Bob McCartney has filmed countless number of plays.

And among those plays are the best of the best in Steelers history.

Except one.

One that was the best not just in Steelers history, but also in NFL history.

The Immaculate Reception.

It's not because McCartney wasn't filming the game.

It's because, well, quite simply he ran out of film before the game ended.

While McCartney had filmed practice on occasion for the team during the 1972 season, he never filmed a game as he was working part-time helping in other departments, including the equipment and training room.

But on December 23, 1972, help was needed when the Steelers were hosting the Raiders in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, and McCartney was asked to film the game from the end zone location high atop Three Rivers Stadium.

And during that game, the most iconic play in Steelers history occurred 50 years ago.

"I was in the end zone. Opposite the scoreboard," said McCartney, now the team's Director of Facilities. "The Pirates radio booth was up there and that's what we used as an end zone location.

"So, a little bit of history. The end zone filming position didn't exist back in 1972. We were just starting to take end zone pictures, film of the games because somebody had come up with an idea that this angle might be beneficial to the coaches."

With that in mind, photographer/cameraman Les Banos, who was shooting from the 50-yard line, asked McCartney to help because they were short-handed. McCartney was more than willing.

"I had never shot a game in my life," said McCartney. "I had just started to shoot practice with a camera that the Steelers had bought. I was working in the equipment room, and I had shot practice a training camp and used to drive it from Latrobe back to Pittsburgh on a daily basis to get it processed and then drive it back to Latrobe and deliver it to Chuck Noll. During the 1972 season I was working in the equipment room helping Tony Parisi and Jack Hart, and also helping Ralph Berlin the trainer. And every once in a while, we'd go out and shoot practice.

"On that particular Sunday, I got a call from Les asking me if I'd go ahead and shoot the end zone and I said sure, no problem. It was the first game that I ever shot. And I cruised along. I had four magazines of 400-feet of film per magazine. They told me that'll be more than enough. Plenty. We had four reels of film that was kind of standard for anything that you did, two for offense, one in the first half, one in the second, and then one for defense and one for special teams.

"I cruise through the first three quarters, and I changed my last magazine on my camera. I started to shoot and of course now the game gets a little tense. And I don't want to miss anything. So, I'm starting early and running long on plays.

"And as it turns out at the two-minute warning, I ran out of film."

At this point the Steelers had a 6-0 lead after two Roy Gerela field goals, but there was so much more that would happen.

And McCartney was in a panic.

"I had a film changing bag which was a cloth bag that was a portable dark room, and you could go in and change the film in the magazine," said McCartney. "If you were good at it, you could do it in under two minutes. Well, I had never done it before, but I tried it. I'd never had to do it under pressure. So, we're at the two-minute warning. I'm in a changing bag. And I'm fumbling. I was like this isn't going to work right. The game comes back, referee blows the whistle and we're going to start again. I was like, this is totally ridiculous. There's no way I'm going to do this. It wasn't required as part of the exchange at that point in time. I literally packed up the gear and went downstairs on the elevator and I walked up the hallway. I was going to drop the equipment that we had off in Les Banos' office, which was behind home plate based on the layout of Three Rivers."

While he was getting the film dropped off, the Raiders took a 7-6 lead and it was looking like the Steelers were going to lose, with many heading towards the exit.

Then it happened.

"I dropped the film off and there was a window by home plate, and I went out and looked out the window and I see Franco Harris running. And Tony Parisi is in the end zone with his hands up and the crowd goes crazy. Jim Boston (who was in charge of contract negotiations and NFL dealings) was on the phone with the officials and when they came out and said it was a touchdown. I went running up the hallway. I was so excited. We had just won a playoff game.

"I ran into the locker room, which is where I was used to going after games to help the equipment staff. And as soon as I flung open the door, Mr. (Art) Rooney, The Chief was there. He looked at me, and he goes, Bob it was a good season. I was like, no, Mr. Rooney, we won the game and he looked at me and by that time here comes the team and everybody's ranting and raving and yelling and screaming.

"And that was it. The Immaculate Reception was the first game that I had ever completely filmed, not even completely."

Flash back for a moment to 50 years ago and game film was not what it was today. While everyone would have been scrambling for the angle McCartney was supposed to have shot, nobody even asked him about it.

"I don't even think I saw Les. He was worried about his stuff," said McCartney. "He had four reels of film that were sitting in a case in his office, and he knew whatever was in there was what he had. I don't think we ever talked about it. Once the game was over and we won, and it was like, okay, it is what it is."

McCartney thought Steelers Coach Chuck Noll, who was a film and camera buff would ask him about his angle, but that never happened either.

"I was embarrassed," admitted McCartney. "We're going to win a playoff game. My first thought was, 'Oh, my God, I missed this play. I'm going hear about it from Chuck.' Chuck was very into teaching. He taught me what he wanted to see and what was the best way to do it. He was always trying to help me.

"I told him what happened. It was my first game. I shot the film. And oh, by the way, the two-minute warning, I ran out of film and of course, I had to explain to him that I tried to get into the changing bag to change the film. I was too nervous, first game. I didn't know exactly what I was doing. He understood."

To learn more about the Immaculate Reception and how the Steelers are honoring the 50th Anniversary of it, visit: Immaculate Reception Anniversary.

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