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Steelers unveil Immaculate Reception monument

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Steelers unveil Immaculate Reception monument

PITTSBURGH (AP) Franco Harris and the dynasty Pittsburgh Steelers - and even an old Oakland Raiders linebacker - returned to the spot of the Immaculate Reception on Saturday to unveil a monument on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the play.

At a tent adjacent to Heinz Field, Harris and former Steelers teammates ignored chilly conditions during the festive ceremony.

The monument is at the exact site of Harris' famous touchdown reception at Three Rivers Stadium in a 13-7 victory over the Oakland Raiders in an AFC playoff game on Dec. 23, 1972.

``Isn't this beautiful, guys?'' Harris said to the crowd. ``That play really represents our teams of the `70s.''

It was a defining moment in the NFL and sparked the Steelers to a run of four Super Bowl titles from 1972-79. They went on to win two more in 2006 and `09.

``The last 40 years have been incredible,'' Harris said. ``This is what the Pittsburgh Steelers are all about.''

Outside the tent, Steelers faithful - many waving yellow towels and chanting, ``Here we go, Steelers, here we go!'' - looked on as Harris was joined on a podium by other former players, including running back Frenchy Fuqua, who was the intended target of quarterback Terry Bradshaw's pass.

But the ball deflected off either Fuqua or Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum - replays were inconclusive - and an approaching Harris scooped the ball off his shoetops and raced past Oakland linebacker Phil Villapiano and defensive back Jimmy Warren into the end zone to put the Steelers ahead with 5 seconds remaining.

``There are moments in life where you know what you're doing,'' Harris said. ``Me and Frenchy, we had no idea what we were doing.''

Harris then turned to his right and spotted Villapiano sitting nearby.

``Phil Villapiano thought he knew what he was doing,'' Harris said.

Villapiano acknowledged Harris' good-natured jab with a laugh and a nod.

``Franco and I have talked about that play a million times,'' Villapiano said. ``So many of those guys from the Steelers are my friends. I never thought that play would lead to so much talk and a statue. I love it. I'm really glad I came here.''

As Harris and Villapiano shook hands and posed for pictures in front of the monument, Fuqua walked toward the crowd and shed a sport coat to reveal a T-shirt that read, ``I'll never tell,'' referring to which player touched the ball before Harris made the catch.

According to NFL rules at that time, if two receivers from the same team touched the ball consecutively on the same play, the pass would be ruled an incompletion.

Fuqua often hints that he's the one person who knows what actually happened before Harris' Immaculate Reception. In the 2006 book, ``Pittsburgh Steelers: Men of Steel,'' Fuqua said, ``All I can tell you is that it was immaculate.''

The monument, which displays a plaque of Harris bending down while running to catch the ball, was produced in Pittsburgh by Matthews International Architectural Products, the same firm that produced a statue at PNC Park of Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski's famous World Series-winning home run in 1960 against the New York Yankees as well as Hall of Fame plaques in Cooperstown, N.Y.

It is the third monument commissioned by the Heinz History Center acknowledging the Immaculate Reception. The others include life-size statues of Harris making his catch at Pittsburgh International Airport and at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum.

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Lars Eller departs the bubble for birth of his second child

Lars Eller departs the bubble for birth of his second child

Capitals forward Lars Eller has left the NHL bubble in Toronto to be with his family for the birth of his second child, the team announced Wednesday. Eller had made it known he intended to do so before even arriving in Toronto so the news of his departure is no surprise.

Eller is actually not the first player to voluntarily leave the bubble for the birth of a child. That honor goes to Ivan Barbashev of the St. Louis Blues who departed on Tuesday.

Eller’s departure means he will miss Thursday’s game, Travis Boyd is expected to step into Eller’s position at third line center. Boyd has largely been an extra for much of the season in Washington and played in only 24 games, but still managed 10 points. Boyd also has experience playing the third-line center role in the playoffs as he did it in 2018 during the team’s Cup run. An injury to Nicklas Backstrom pushed Eller into the second line, which allowed Boyd to get into the lineup.

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Eller’s return will be complicated. It is not just a matter of rejoining the team, but also being able to re-enter the NHL’s bubble which will mean a period of quarantine and testing. That means that even upon returning to Toronto, he will not be available to join the team right away. Eller will almost certainly miss the team’s final round robin game as well against the Boston Bruins on Sunday.

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Ben Simmons leaves Wizards matchup early with a knee injury

Ben Simmons leaves Wizards matchup early with a knee injury

Philadelphia 76ers point guard Ben Simmons left Wednesday’s game against the Wizards late in the third quarter with an apparent left knee injury. Reports say he will not return for the remainder of the matchup.

In 23 minutes, he recorded eight points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals against Washington before leaving for the locker room early.

Simmons has been an instrumental piece of the 76ers’ success this season and would be a major loss should the injury sideline him from the remainder of play in the bubble. This season, he has averaged 16.6 points, 8.1 assists and 7.8 rebounds.

In the Sixers’ loss to Indiana on Saturday, he recorded a 19-point, 13-rebound double-double and added eight points and five assists in the win over San Antonio on Monday.

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