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Immaculate Reception

From Academic Kids

The Immaculate Reception is the nickname given to one of the most famous single plays in the history of professional American football. It occurred in an AFC semi-final game in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on December 23, 1972.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were behind their longtime rival, the Oakland Raiders by the score of 7 to 6, facing fourth-and-ten on their own 40-yard line with 22 seconds remaining in the game and no time outs. Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw the ball to the Raiders' 35-yard line, toward fullback Frenchy Fuqua. Raiders safety Jack Tatum reached Fuqua just as the ball did. Tatum's hit knocked Fuqua to the ground. The ball bounced backward several yards. Steelers running back Franco Harris, after initially blocking on the play, had moved forward in case Bradshaw needed another eligible receiver. He scooped up the ball just before it hit the ground, apparently off the tops of his shoes, and ran the rest of the way downfield to score the touchdown that gave the Steelers a 12-7 lead with five seconds remaining in the game.

The critical question was: Whom did the ball bounce off? If it bounced off Fuqua, and then Harris was the next to touch the ball, the reception was illegal under the rules of the time, which did not allow two offensive players to touch a pass in succession; the Raiders would gain possession and a sure win. If the ball bounced off Tatum, or if it bounced off Fuqua and then Tatum, the reception was legal, as a defensive player was the last to touch the ball.

The game officials did not immediately make any signal, and there was no instant replay rule at the time. Referee Fred Swearingen telephoned the NFL's supervisor of officials, Art McNally, who was sitting in the press box, after which he signaled a touchdown. Fans immediately rushed the field, and it took fifteen minutes to clear them so the point-after, or conversion, could be kicked to give the Steelers what turned out to be their final margin, 13-7.

The play is still disputed by those involved. The surviving videotape and photographs of the play are not conclusive. Tatum has said the ball did not bounce off him. Fuqua has been coy, supposedly saying he knows exactly what happened that day but will never tell. Raiders coach John Madden, currently (as of 2004) a sportscaster with ABC television, still seems to be resentful. The linebacker who was covering Harris has claimed he was clipped (illegally blocked from behind) before he could make a tackle.

The week after this playoff victory, the Steelers lost the AFC championship game to the Miami Dolphins, who would then win Super Bowl VII in their landmark undefeated season. The Steelers, however, would go on to become a dominant force in the NFL for the subsequent decade, winning four Super Bowls with such stars as Bradshaw, Harris, and Lynn Swann.

The phrase "Immaculate Reception" is a play on words of the Immaculate Conception, implying that the play was divine or miraculous in nature. It was first used on air by Myron Cope, the Steelers announcer who was reporting on the Steelers' victory. A woman named Sharon Levosky called Cope the night of the game and suggested the name (which was coined by her friend, Michael Ord). Cope used the term on television and the phrase stuck.

See also

External links

  • ESPN article (http://espn.go.com/nfl/playoffs98/news/1999/990106/01030879.html)
  • Images of the play (http://greatsportsrivalries.com/pittssteelers/ir_1972.html)
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