“Immaculate Reception” at 38

It’s the single greatest play in Steeler history. It’s the single greatest play in NFL history. It may be the single most important event in Pittsburgh history.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on a good bounce and a great catch by Franco Harris.

Still, the importance of the “Immaculate Reception” cannot be underestimated. It’s the official day “Steeler Mania” was born. The Steeler franchise, which had not won so much as a play-off game, went onto win six super bowl titles and a world-wide following.

I spoke to Franco Harris today, 38 years after his play turned the tide for the team, the city and its fans. He told me Iw as the first media person to call him today. I guess with time, it only becomes a big deal on the 30th, 40th and 50th anniversaries. Franco told me Joe Greene did call to wish him a “happy anniversary”, but thought it was 28 years, not 38.

From his office at his business “Super Bakery”, Franco told me how the playoff game itself was a turning point for the franchise. His Steelers went 11-3 and were playing the kind of ball that would be the launching pad for 4 Super Bowl titles in 6 years but the team needed a signature moment to start the run.

He says the fans that day were fired up like he had never seen them in 1972, perhaps sensing greatness was within their reach. The Steelers trailed the mighty Oakland Raiders late in that game when the moment happened – a moment witnessed only by those inside Three Rivers Stadium because the game was blacked out.

The play itself was more of desperate heave than a well-conceived execution … and that brings up the only mystery. Did John “Frenchy” Fuqua touch the ball on the collision with Jack Tatum that allowed the ball to wind up in Franco’s hands. If Fuqua touched it, by 1972 rules the play would have been whistled dead because the ball could not be advanced from one offensive player to another. 

Franco told me that Frenchy wasn’t saying and neither was he. In his words, let’s keep it “Immaculate”.

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