The Immaculate Reception

History Published on : 1/1/2005

Steelers beat Raiders on one of NFL's craziest plays

In 1972, the Pittsburgh Steelers completed their fortieth season by advancing to the playoffs for only the second time. Their first postseason appearance had been brief (a 21-0 loss to Philadelphia in 1947), and these Steelers seemed headed for a similar fate.

Harris races home with the "Immaculate Reception"
Click image to view photo gallery of the play unfold>>>

With 22 seconds left in an AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh trailed the Oakland Raiders, 7-6 and faced fourth-and-10 from its 40-yard line. Art Rooney, the club's owner and founder, headed down the elevator to the locker room to console his team, thereby missing one of the wackiest plays and one of the most fantastic finishes in NFL history.

Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw dropped back to pass, but the Raiders flushed him out of the pocket to the right. He saw running back John (Frenchy) Fuqua over the middle at the Raiders' 35, and with defenders closing, Bradshaw fired a pass toward Fuqua.

Fuqua, Raiders safety Jack Tatum and the ball converged simultaneously, and out popped the ball. The Raiders began to celebrate, not realizing that rookie running back Franco Harris, trailing the play at the Raiders' 42, had picked the ball out of the air at his shoe tops and taken off down the left sideline. Some Raiders gave chase, but they could not stop Harris from running to the end zone.

Touchdown? Nobody knew, including the officials. The Raiders argued that Fuqua had batted the ball to Harris (the rules of the time did not permit consecutive touches by offensive players). If Tatum had batted the ball, the play would have been a touchdown.

Referee Fred Swearingen, after consulting with NFL supervisor of officials Art McNally, came back on the field and ruled the play a touchdown. Pittsburgh kicked the extra point to take a 13-7 lead with five seconds left, a score that was finalized moments later. 

For a franchise cursed by a four-decade run of bad luck, the "Immaculate Reception" amounted to an unbelievable dose of good fortune -- and a welcome turning point.

Pitt FG Gerela 18
Pitt FG Gerela 29
Oak Stabler 30 run (Blanda kick)
Pitt Harris 60 pass from Bradshaw (Gerela kick)
RUSHING OAK - Smith, 14 for 57; Hubbard, 14 for 44; Stabler, 1 for 30. 1 TD; Davis, 2 for 7. PIT - Harris, 18 for 64; Fuqua, 16 for 25; Bradshaw, 2 for 19.
PASSING OAK - Stabler, 6 of 12 for 57; Lamonica, 6 of 18 for 45, 2 int. PIT - Bradshaw, 11 of 25 for 175, 1 TD, 1 int.
RECEIVING OAK - Chester, 3 for 40; Biletnikoff, 3 for 28; Smith, 2 for 8; Banaszak, 1 for 12; Siani, 1 for 7; J. Otto, 1 for 5; Hubbard, 1 for 2. PITT - Harris, 5 for 96, 1 TD; Shanklin, 3 for 55; Fuqua, 1 for 11; McMakin, 1 for 9; Young, 1 for 4.