Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception

The thirty day period of December is a single of remembrance for supporters of Pittsburgh sports activities and those who however live in the metropolis. This calendar year is specially important as it marks the 50th anniversary of two occasions that will stand the take a look at of time and signify the highest of highs and the least expensive of lows for Pittsburgh Steelers enthusiasts and Pirates lovers all over the place.

I recently authored an posting for Abstract Sports activities on how this December marks the 50th anniversary of the tragic dying of Roberto Clemente. But as unhappy as his passing was and continue to is, just 8 limited times ahead of his fatal aircraft crash that took his existence, inside the old A few Rivers Stadium a soccer activity was remaining played involving the Steelers and the Oakland Raiders.

For the gentlemen in black and gold that day, December 23, 1972, the staff had taken the Steelers to their pretty to start with playoff match going through the Oakland Raiders and a rookie operating back named Franco Harris was of several stars that created up that terrific group. The Raiders and Steelers would build a intense rivalry that was not just heated but brutal in its physicality.

Regrettably, and a lot unexpectedly, Franco Harris handed absent just times right before the Raiders and Steelers have been scheduled to satisfy again on the field in Pittsburgh. Oddly sufficient, the notorious participate in occurred in 1972 and Harris was 72 at the time of his demise. Go figure. But unique gatherings were being scheduled to consider place to honor that one particular enjoy and what affect Harris’s passing has on that remained to be viewed.

These two teams did not like each individual other, and it confirmed on the field. Just Google Atkinson vs Swann on YouTube and observe the clothesline strike on Swann shipped by the Raiders’ secondary participant. It was brutal and I keep in mind it nicely. It was so deliberate that then Steelers head mentor Chuck Noll preferred prices introduced versus Atkinson for assault. What built it worse is the actuality that Swann was not even concerned in the play as it was a managing perform when it occurred.

But in that 1972 playoff sport in which the Raiders have been favored, the recreation was restricted throughout and Oakland had the match won when quarterback Ken Stabler scrambled 30 yards for a go-ahead touchdown to consider the lead 7-6 late in the fourth quarter. The Steelers experienced one past shot to acquire the recreation, but the clock was ticking, and Pittsburgh had no timeouts to their credit rating.

Oakland was in a position to maintain the Steelers in test, inevitably forcing them into a fourth-and-10 problem with only 22 ticks still left in regulation. From their individual 40 lawn-line, Terry Bradshaw was forced to both get a initially down on a enjoy that would go out of bounds or attempt a hail-mary go. As the snap took place the Raiders brought major stress on Bradshaw but by some means, he avoided a selected sack and tossed the ball downfield in the path of John “Frenchy” Fuqua.

What took place subsequent was unthinkable. In a controversy that continue to stirs to this day, the ball bounded off of Fuqua or Oakland’s Jack Tatum a thing that can’t be definitively identified even now, but the deflection was heading towards the floor when that rookie named Franco Harris achieved down to his shoelace level and picked up the ball just right before it hit the synthetic turf of 3 Rivers Stadium.

Harris would run earlier Oakland’s Gerald Irons and linebacker Phil Villapiano who was blocked by Pittsburgh’s John McMakin and making use of a stiff arm, Harris concluded off the Raiders by putting his hand in the facemask of Jimmy Warren.

Franco manufactured it to the close zone profitable the activity for the Steelers sending his “Italian Army” into a frenzy and the countless numbers of followers in their seats into a wild celebration. My father was at that match and his recollection was that a lover in entrance of him was eating some rooster and when the landing was scored, he got so fired up he threw his food items into the air in celebration.

Then Steelers owner Artwork Rooney actually skipped the play since he was previously on his way into the locker room to congratulate his players on a great period and was in the stadium tunnel when he heard the large roar of the supporters in the stands.

Of training course, the Raiders objected saying the ball had hit Fuqua which in 1972 would have produced the perform illegal due to the fact guidelines again then stated a ball that hits an offensive participant can not be retrieved by yet another offensive participant. The referees gathered to make a conclusion and given that there was no quick replay back again then, so it had to be a subjective selection to make a ruling.

After a lot conferring the play was not overruled, and the Steelers highly developed to the AFC championship game. To this working day surviving Raiders gamers will convey to you they bought robbed. The play acquired the title “Immaculate Reception” and has often been voted the greatest perform in the historical past of the NFL. Oakland’s Atkinson likes to get in touch with the engage in the “Immaculate Deception.”

Jack Tatum, the Raiders participant who clearly hits Frenchy Fuqua on the engage in insists the ball hit Fuqua. Fuqua for his portion, nevertheless contends he is familiar with just what took place but will not give his facet of the tale and has claimed regularly that he is getting his variation to the grave. The participate in grew to become so famed that if you travel as a result of Pittsburgh’s worldwide airport you will see a statue of Franco Harris on display screen exhibiting this historic engage in.

Regrettably, numerous of the gamers from that recreation have passed. Amongst 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 gone. Other Steelers gamers who have considering that handed and were on the roster in 1972 are Ron Shanklin, Sam Davis, Ray Mansfield, and Steve Furness.

The Oakland Raiders family since 1972 have shed their Hall of Fame head mentor John Madden. “The Snake” Ken Stabler died in 2015. The rugged jogging back again Marv Hubbard passed absent in the exact yr. A single of the biggest offensive linemen at any time Gene Upshaw passed away when he reached 83 decades of age. Willie Brown a excellent secondary participant, has also handed. Gerald Irons died just last yr. Jack Tatum lived to be only 61. An astounding huge receiver Cliff Branch joins this list as nicely. Stabler’s key backup and a solid quarterback himself Daryle Lamonica also died just this year.

One particular remarkably appealing little bit of trivia regarding the Immaculate Reception for some may be wanting to know what at any time grew to become of the soccer Franco Harris toted into the conclude one particular? Well, in the center of all that celebrating and craziness bordering Harris’s sport-profitable perform a gentleman named Jim Baker was at the recreation with his nephew Bobby. Mr. Baker somehow located the ball and picked it up. At the time home he contacted the Steelers and available the ball again to them in trade for life span time tickets, but the Steelers stated no.

In accordance to documents, Baker was supplied $150,000 but he turned down the provide and to this working day the infamous ball is locked away in a financial institution vault. Jim Baker does deliver it to him on certain occasions largely when the Steelers are associated.

As for that match by itself, it was a defensive wrestle, so offensive figures had been practically nothing to compose residence about. But for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the activity served as a launching pad for just one of the best solitary-10 years dynasties in background. Pittsburgh would win the Super Bowl a handful of a long time afterwards defeating the Minnesota Vikings in Tremendous Bowl IX, then repeating the pursuing 12 months by beating Dallas in Tremendous Bowl X. Two seasons after that they gained Super Bowl XIII and repeated in Super Bowl XIV.

This Steelers dynasty absolutely did not overshadow the achievements of the Oakland Raiders. If not for the Steelers, it would have been the Raiders who grew to become a dynasty. Their teams in that 1970s decade have been about as excellent as Pittsburgh with an equal total of expertise and numerous gamers who would close up in Canton, Ohio in the Pro Soccer Hall of Fame. They experienced terrific groups and met the Steelers in the playoffs multiple times as Pittsburgh always bought in the way other than for that one time in involving the Steelers’ four Super Bowl victories that resulted in Oakland winning the Super Bowl.

That AFC title match in 1976 in which Pittsburgh had a possibility to get a few straight Tremendous Bowls was halted by Oakland 24-7 but the two Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier have been wounded and without a running game, the Steelers experienced no chance. Ironically, the staff Pittsburgh defeated for their first Super Bowl, the Vikings, fell victim to Oakland in Tremendous Bowl XI.

But again to the Immaculate Reception, after beating Oakland the Steelers located themselves up from the undefeated Miami Dolphins the adhering to 7 days. No crew in the historical past of the NFL experienced completed a year without getting rid of and then winning the league title. The 1972 Dolphins had been poised to make historical past. All that stood in their way was the upstart Steelers.

Pittsburgh held a 10-7 guide in the 3rd quarter but could not hold it and Miami went on to acquire 21-17. The Dolphins would complete off their best season with a victory in Super Bowl VII beating the then Washington Redskins 14-7 in a game that had a controversial play or humorous a person in actuality when Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian attended to throw a pass pursuing a blocked discipline intention that was intercepted by the Redskins who took it to the household but however fell brief 14-7.

Now for a authentic scenario of irony. The working day the Steelers performed Miami for the AFC title was December 31, 1972. Afterwards that night all of Pittsburgh, just about every Pirates supporter all over the globe, and any person who knew Roberto Clemente obtained strike with the worst news attainable. A legend in Pirates baseball was lifeless. Just eight days right after incredible jubilation around the Steelers’ 1st playoff victory ever that finished in remarkable manner arrived the really sad news that just one of the biggest baseball gamers at any time, 1 of the best human beings everywhere in sports activities experienced left us.

December 31 was actually a down day for Pittsburghers and both of those Steelers and Pirates fans everywhere. The Steelers would have numerous much more vivid, pleased, and prosperous times ahead but for most Pirates enthusiasts, everyday living would under no circumstances be the similar trying to fathom that we would under no circumstances see Roberto Clemente once again. A even larger tragedy is that the plane that was chartered in which he died had an incident before that month and repairs to the airplane have been in no way totally created. Clemente’s widow Vera and her spouse and children would afterwards file a lawsuit versus the United States and precisely the FAA for not monitoring the situation of the plane and making it possible for it to consider off on that working day.

However, this posting is about the delight and pleasure of the Immaculate Reception and the superb victory that came since of that a person solitary perform on December 23, 1972. The arguments involving Steelers and Raiders supporters as to regardless of whether this was an unlawful enjoy will not go anywhere leaving us to guess what really happened on that enjoy. Only Frenchy Fuqua is aware of.

Harv Aronson