Immaculate Rule

The Immaculate Reception is arguably the most famous play in NFL history. By know most people know the story. With the Pittsburgh Steelers trailing the Oakland Raiders late in the 1972 AFC Divisional Playoff, Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw a fourth down pass attempt to John “Frenchy” Fuqua. The ball bounced off the hands of Raiders safety Jack Tatum and, as it fell towards the ground, Steelers running back Franco Harris scooped it up and ran for a game-winning touchdown.

Part of what made the play so controversial and what is still debated today, is if Bradshaw’s pass touched Tatum or Fuqua first. Why does this matter? The rules at the time prohibited offensive players from consecutively touching a forward pass.

Here is a breakdown of the rule at the time.

1972 NFL Rule Book

    Rule 7, Section 5, Article 2, Item 2-c

Any forward pass (legal or illegal) becomes incomplete and ball is dead immediately if pass is caught by any A player after it has touched ineligible A player or second eligible A, and before any touching by B.
The Penalty of this this infraction is a loss of down at the previous spot.

Translation - if Fuqua first touched the ball and Harris was the next to touch, then the ball would have been dead at the spot in which Harris caught the ball. With the loss of down penalty, the Steelers would have turned the ball over on downs and the Raiders would have won 7-6.

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