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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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Ravens fans celebrate new energy injected by Lamar Jackson-run offense

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USA Today Sports

Ravens fans celebrate new energy injected by Lamar Jackson-run offense

Lamar Jackson is the most popular man in Baltimore. 

In his second season with the Ravens, it’s impossible to *not* see his name everywhere you look. His number eight jersey is quickly becoming as synonymous with the Ravens as Cal Ripken Jr.’s was with the Orioles.

Jackson has taken the NFL by storm in 2019, forcing himself into the MVP debate.

Longtime fan Rick Gibson said the Jackson era has a different feel than the previous Joe Flacco-led team.

“It’s fun coming to games,” he said before Sunday's matchup against the Texans. "A lot better than it has been in the past, so it’s more exciting.”

With the flip of a switch -- or rather, the draft pick of a quarterback -- fan enthusiasm is all of a sudden at an all-time high.

And it starts (and ends) with number eight.

“It’s incredible,” said Ravens fan Jonathan Greene. “Most excited for a Ravens team, and I’ve been a fan for years. It’s awesome. He has elevated this team.”

The words fans use to describe Jackson’s game are all similar. Phenomenal. Awesome. Incredible. Spectacular. Magic.

Jackson’s stats this season speak for themselves: 2,036 passing yards and 15 touchdowns against just five interceptions. A 65.9 completion percentage. 702 rushing yards -- 11th-most in the NFL -- and six touchdowns. And of course, a 7-2 record.

Even those who would discount Jackson’s performance as beating up on weak competition are forced to recognize his brilliance. Against the winless Bengals, for example, Next Gen Stats estimated an average quarterback should have a completion percentage of 57.7%, based on how covered his receivers were, how much pressure he was under, and more. 

His actual percentage? 88.2%, or 30.5% higher than what was expected. It was the best difference for *any* quarterback in *any* game in 2019.

Fans are excited for the future as well. Not just for the Ravens but for young football fans across the city.

“He’s only 22 years old,” another fan, John Ford, said. “I think he appeals to the younger generation coming up through the high school and college ranks, because they can relate to him...I think he’s a role model for a lot of young kids coming up. And you watch him on the sidelines, he does some great things, but he takes it in stride. So he’s not celebrating too much, he knows what he’s got to do. That’s a unique thing for a young man, only 22 years old, at this level.”

The near future looks more daunting than in the long term. The Ravens enter Week 11 on a five-game winning streak, hoping to win six straight for the first time since 2000. 

They are beginning a tough slate of four straight against playoff contenders, but with Jackson leading an unstoppable offense, three or four wins doesn’t seem far-fetched. Regardless of what happens, Jackson has emphatically won over the city of Baltimore and the NFL writ large.

One longtime Ravens fan, Stan Nasiatka, put it best when asked about Jackson.

“That’s all we’re talking about," he said. "It’s everywhere.”

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Mr. Consistency Justin Tucker misses first field goal of the season

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Mr. Consistency Justin Tucker misses first field goal of the season

Justin Tucker is the best kicker in the NFL. That much hasn’t changed.

But something different happened on Sunday against the Texans: Tucker’s attempt on the Ravens’ first drive of the game -- from 43 yards out -- bounced off the right upright.

The miss snapped a streak of 22 consecutive made field goals for Tucker, who is the NFL’s all-time leader in field goal percentage. He is the only kicker in NFL history to convert more than 90% of his field goal attempts.

While it's shocking, this wasn't Tucker's first miss this season. He missed an extra point two weeks ago against New England.

It’s too soon to be concerned about Tucker going forward. For now, just pick your jaws up off the floor and go back to feeling confident in the Ravens’ most consistent player the next time he jogs out onto the field.

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