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The Immaculate Reception, 48 years later

US PRESSWIRE Sports Archive

Dec 23, 1972; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; FILE PHOTO; Pittsburgh Steelers running back (32) Franco Harris leaves the field after catching the winning touchdown pass in the 1972 AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Oakland Raiders at Three Rivers Stadium. The Steelers defeated the Raiders 13-7. The catch was deemed the “Immaculate Reception” when Harris caught a deflected pass with 5 seconds left in the game to give the Steelers the victory. Mandatory Credit: Photo By Malcolm Emmons- USA TODAY Sports © Copyright Malcolm Emmons


Earlier this year, we commemorated the 70th birthday of the man who scored the touchdown on the other end of the Immaculate Reception. Today, we commemorate the 48th anniversary of one of the greatest moments in football history.

The Immaculate Reception. Also, the moment at which a seven-year-old kid realized that pro football is a pretty big deal.

Here’s where I plagiarize myself from Franco birthday blurb, posed on March 7 (a/k/a the last few days before the world went nutty).

In 1972, all games were blacked out within 75 miles of the stadium, even if they were sold out. (Commissioner Pete Rozelle believed that no game would ever sell out if a sellout allowed the game to be televised locally. Under pressure from two members of Congress — including former West Virginia representative Harley Staggers — Rozelle adjusted the rule for Super Bowl VII and beyond, to permit local broadcast if a game is sold out.)

I grew up in Wheeling, West Virginia, 60 miles from Pittsburgh. Somehow, our house was the only house on Haddale Avenue that was able to capture the signal of an NBC affiliate that fell outside the 75-mile bubble. So my mom opened the doors to any and all neighbors who wanted to watch the Raiders-Steelers playoff game and the combination living room/TV room was for the first and only time filled with grown ups and so I did what all seven-year-olds do in a room full of grown ups: I stayed as far away from them as I could and played with my Hot Wheels.

I could have just gone to my room, but my desire not to be around a bunch of grown ups was overcome by my fascination with this thing on TV that compelled them to come to our house, and more amazingly that prompted my mother to step so far out of character and to allow so many shoes on the carpet that featured a wide, thick plastic runner from front door to couch and so many asses on the “good” furniture. Then, when whatever it was that happened at the end of the game happened (I wasn’t watching), they all started jumping and shouting and acting like anything but grown ups.

What happened was a desperation throw by quarterback Terry Bradshaw to running back Frenchy Fuqua. The ball struck Raiders safety Jack Tatum and Franco caught it on the run and carried it to the end zone. Some insist the ball hit Fuqua (at the time, the rules prevented a catch if the ball touched another offensive player first), others insist the ball struck the ground before Franco secured the catch. Regardless, the result stood. The Steelers won.

That was the hook for me. The logic was simple; if football can make grown ups act like kids, maybe kids should be watching it, too. That’s when I started watching it. By the 1973 season, I was hooked. A mere 28 years later, PFT was hatched.