Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception

The thirty day period of December is 1 of remembrance for admirers of Pittsburgh sports and all those who still stay in the town. This year is specially significant as it marks the 50th anniversary of two events that will stand the check of time and symbolize the highest of highs and the cheapest of lows for Pittsburgh Steelers enthusiasts and Pirates followers almost everywhere.

I not too long ago authored an write-up for Summary Sporting activities on how this December marks the 50th anniversary of the tragic loss of life of Roberto Clemente. But as unfortunate as his passing was and nonetheless is, just eight shorter days prior to his lethal airplane crash that took his lifestyle, inside of the old Three Rivers Stadium a football match was remaining played involving the Steelers and the Oakland Raiders.

For the men in black and gold that day, December 23, 1972, the staff experienced taken the Steelers to their extremely 1st playoff video game experiencing the Oakland Raiders and a rookie working again named Franco Harris was of quite a few stars that produced up that excellent workforce. The Raiders and Steelers would create a intense rivalry that was not just heated but brutal in its physicality.

Sadly, and much unexpectedly, Franco Harris handed absent just times ahead of the Raiders and Steelers were being scheduled to meet up with yet again on the subject in Pittsburgh. Oddly plenty of, the notorious perform transpired in 1972 and Harris was 72 at the time of his dying. Go figure. But special functions were scheduled to acquire area to honor that 1 engage in and what effect Harris’s passing has on that remained to be viewed.

These two teams did not like each and every other, and it showed on the subject. Just Google Atkinson vs Swann on YouTube and enjoy the clothesline strike on Swann shipped by the Raiders’ secondary participant. It was brutal and I keep in mind it well. It was so deliberate that then Steelers head coach Chuck Noll desired charges introduced against Atkinson for assault. What made it worse is the truth that Swann was not even involved in the engage in as it was a jogging participate in when it happened.

But in that 1972 playoff sport in which the Raiders had been favored, the sport was restricted through and Oakland had the video game gained when quarterback Ken Stabler scrambled 30 yards for a go-in advance landing to choose the guide 7-6 late in the fourth quarter. The Steelers had 1 past shot to gain the game, but the clock was ticking, and Pittsburgh experienced no timeouts to their credit.

Oakland was able to keep the Steelers in verify, eventually forcing them into a fourth-and-10 circumstance with only 22 ticks left in regulation. From their have 40 lawn-line, Terry Bradshaw was forced to possibly get a 1st down on a perform that would go out of bounds or consider a hail-mary pass. As the snap took position the Raiders introduced hefty stress on Bradshaw but someway, he averted a specified sack and tossed the ball downfield in the course of John “Frenchy” Fuqua.

What took place subsequent was unthinkable. In a controversy that nevertheless stirs to this working day, the ball bounded off of Fuqua or Oakland’s Jack Tatum something that are unable to be definitively decided even now, but the deflection was heading in direction of the floor when that rookie named Franco Harris attained down to his shoelace level and picked up the ball just in advance of it strike the synthetic turf of 3 Rivers Stadium.

Harris would operate past Oakland’s Gerald Irons and linebacker Phil Villapiano who was blocked by Pittsburgh’s John McMakin and employing a rigid arm, Harris finished off the Raiders by placing his hand in the facemask of Jimmy Warren.

Franco manufactured it to the conclude zone winning the activity for the Steelers sending his “Italian Army” into a frenzy and the 1000’s of fans in their seats into a wild celebration. My father was at that sport and his recollection was that a lover in front of him was having some hen and when the landing was scored, he acquired so psyched he threw his foods into the air in celebration.

Then Steelers operator Artwork Rooney actually skipped the engage in mainly because he was already on his way into the locker room to congratulate his gamers on a great season and was in the stadium tunnel when he heard the great roar of the admirers in the stands.

Of study course, the Raiders objected declaring the ball experienced strike Fuqua which in 1972 would have made the engage in unlawful for the reason that rules back then said a ball that hits an offensive player simply cannot be retrieved by yet another offensive player. The referees gathered to make a final decision and because there was no instant replay back again then, so it experienced to be a subjective decision to make a ruling.

After much conferring the enjoy was not overruled, and the Steelers sophisticated to the AFC championship video game. To this working day surviving Raiders gamers will notify you they received robbed. The perform gained the name “Immaculate Reception” and has typically been voted the best perform in the history of the NFL. Oakland’s Atkinson likes to get in touch with the enjoy the “Immaculate Deception.”

Jack Tatum, the Raiders participant who plainly hits Frenchy Fuqua on the enjoy insists the ball hit Fuqua. Fuqua for his part, even now contends he appreciates precisely what took place but will not give his side of the story and has stated consistently that he is using his edition to the grave. The engage in became so famous that if you vacation via Pittsburgh’s global airport you will see a statue of Franco Harris on exhibit displaying this historic perform.

Unfortunately, lots of of the players from that video game have passed. Among the the deceased are the whole Steelers’ “Steel Curtain” entrance defensive line minus Joe Greene (now 76) but his linemates Ernie Holmes, L.C. Greenwood, and Dwight White are all absent. Other Steelers gamers who have given that handed and ended up on the roster in 1972 are Ron Shanklin, Sam Davis, Ray Mansfield, and Steve Furness.

The Oakland Raiders household given that 1972 have lost their Corridor of Fame head mentor John Madden. “The Snake” Ken Stabler died in 2015. The rugged managing again Marv Hubbard handed away in the identical calendar year. A single of the best offensive linemen at any time Gene Upshaw handed absent when he attained 83 many years of age. Willie Brown a superb secondary participant, has also passed. Gerald Irons died just past 12 months. Jack Tatum lived to be only 61. An remarkable vast receiver Cliff Branch joins this list as very well. Stabler’s key backup and a reliable quarterback himself Daryle Lamonica also died just this year.

A single remarkably intriguing little bit of trivia about the Immaculate Reception for some might be questioning what at any time grew to become of the soccer Franco Harris toted into the stop just one? Properly, in the middle of all that celebrating and craziness surrounding Harris’s activity-profitable engage in a man named Jim Baker was at the recreation with his nephew Bobby. Mr. Baker by some means observed the ball and picked it up. Once dwelling he contacted the Steelers and made available the ball back to them in exchange for life time period tickets, but the Steelers said no.

In accordance to records, Baker was presented $150,000 but he turned down the present and to this day the notorious ball is locked away in a lender vault. Jim Baker does convey it to him on selected occasions generally when the Steelers are involved.

As for that game alone, it was a defensive battle, so offensive studies had been practically nothing to produce dwelling about. But for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the video game served as a launching pad for 1 of the best solitary-ten years dynasties in heritage. Pittsburgh would acquire the Super Bowl a couple of several years later defeating the Minnesota Vikings in Tremendous Bowl IX, then repeating the pursuing yr by beating Dallas in Tremendous Bowl X. Two seasons after that they gained Super Bowl XIII and repeated in Tremendous Bowl XIV.

This Steelers dynasty absolutely did not overshadow the results of the Oakland Raiders. If not for the Steelers, it would have been the Raiders who turned a dynasty. Their groups in that 1970s 10 years have been about as excellent as Pittsburgh with an equivalent amount of money of talent and several gamers who would stop up in Canton, Ohio in the Pro Soccer Corridor of Fame. They experienced wonderful groups and fulfilled the Steelers in the playoffs several situations as Pittsburgh generally received in the way apart from for that a person period in amongst the Steelers’ 4 Tremendous Bowl victories that resulted in Oakland successful the Super Bowl.

That AFC title game in 1976 wherever Pittsburgh had a likelihood to get three straight Super Bowls was halted by Oakland 24-7 but each Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier were being wounded and without a managing activity, the Steelers experienced no prospect. Ironically, the group Pittsburgh defeated for their very first Super Bowl, the Vikings, fell sufferer to Oakland in Super Bowl XI.

But back again to the Immaculate Reception, right after beating Oakland the Steelers located on their own up from the undefeated Miami Dolphins the following 7 days. No group in the historical past of the NFL experienced concluded a season with no getting rid of and then winning the league title. The 1972 Dolphins ended up poised to make background. All that stood in their way was the upstart Steelers.

Pittsburgh held a 10-7 direct in the 3rd quarter but could not hold it and Miami went on to gain 21-17. The Dolphins would finish off their great period with a victory in Tremendous Bowl VII beating the then Washington Redskins 14-7 in a sport that experienced a controversial enjoy or humorous a person in truth when Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian attended to toss a move subsequent a blocked industry goal that was intercepted by the Redskins who took it to the home but even now fell quick 14-7.

Now for a serious case of irony. The working day the Steelers played Miami for the AFC title was December 31, 1972. Later on that evening all of Pittsburgh, just about every Pirates fan all around the globe, and any individual who knew Roberto Clemente received hit with the worst information attainable. A legend in Pirates baseball was useless. Just 8 days after incredible jubilation above the Steelers’ initial playoff victory ever that finished in extraordinary trend arrived the particularly unfortunate information that one of the greatest baseball gamers ever, 1 of the finest human beings any where in athletics had still left us.

December 31 was genuinely a down working day for Pittsburghers and both Steelers and Pirates supporters everywhere. The Steelers would have several a lot more shiny, joyful, and profitable days in advance but for most Pirates followers, life would never ever be the exact seeking to fathom that we would under no circumstances see Roberto Clemente yet again. A even larger tragedy is that the airplane that was chartered in which he died experienced an incident earlier that thirty day period and repairs to the aircraft have been hardly ever completely produced. Clemente’s widow Vera and her loved ones would later on file a lawsuit against the United States and specially the FAA for not checking the affliction of the plane and allowing for it to consider off on that day.

Nevertheless, this post is about the pleasure and pleasure of the Immaculate Reception and the superb victory that arrived for the reason that of that one particular single engage in on December 23, 1972. The arguments in between Steelers and Raiders followers as to no matter whether this was an illegal enjoy will not go wherever leaving us to guess what definitely took place on that perform. Only Frenchy Fuqua is familiar with.

Harv Aronson