Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Immaculate Reception

When I was growing up, the Pittsburgh Steelers were the bottom feeders of the NFL.

But all that changed rather suddenly in 1972.

The Steelers won their division and appeared in a postseason game for the first time in a quarter of a century.

That game was against the Oakland Raiders, at the time the most successful team in the NFL, 40 years ago today, and it seemed that the Steelers, who had been shut out in their only previous postseason appearance, would have to wait at least another year for their first postseason victory.

Neither team managed a score in the first half. The Steelers got two Roy Gerela field goals in the second half before the Raiders took a 7–6 lead on Kenny Stabler's 30–yard touchdown run and George Blanda's extra point late in the game.

Then the most wildly, improbable thing happened.

With time running out, Terry Bradshaw faced a fourth down 60 yards from Oakland's end zone. He scrambled around and flung a pass in the direction of John Fuqua. The pass ricocheted off defender Jack Tatum into the hands of rookie Franco Harris, who scooped it out of the air only inches from the ground and ran down the sidelines for the game–winning score.

Almost immediately, it was dubbed the Immaculate Reception.

And, almost immediately, critics claimed the Raiders had been robbed. It was, one wag suggested, the Immaculate Deception.

Well, yesterday, I watched programming on the NFL Network about the Immaculate Reception. I watched the replays that have been enhanced as much as possible by the technological advances of the last four decades.

And I have concluded that it was a legitimately completed pass.

It was, to be sure, a bizarre play, perhaps the most bizarre play I have seen in a lifetime of watching football.

It has been a source of debate for 40 years, and it probably will be a source of debate for another 40 years.

There will always be folks on either side of the issue who will never be persuaded that the other side might be right.

And that is one of the things that makes sports so special. You never know when an unforgettable moment is about to occur.

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