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Thread: BACK IN TIME - The Immaculate Reception

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    BACK IN TIME - The Immaculate Reception

    BACK IN TIME – The Immaculate Reception
    December 2, 2003
    By Pietro S. Ingrande, Staff Columnist

    The year was 1972 and I can’t believe it was 31 years ago the Raiders and the Steelers got together in what was to become the most memorable playoff game in NFL history.

    The NFL merger occurred in 1970 and 3 NFL teams, Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers were added to the American Football League and became the AFC, American Football Conference. The Colts & Browns had a colorful and illustrious history in the NFL and became instant powers in the AFC. The Steelers? Well, losing was what they were well known for.

    In 1970, they drafted the number one quarterback with the first pick in the draft and Terry Bradshaw started his career. Dumb, they called him. A bust, others called him. He struggled, as did the Steelers. Bradshaw traded time with Terry Hanratty at quarterback. Fortunately for the Steelers, coach Chuck Noll was building a franchise that would become the league best. He drafted young standouts like Mean Joe Green, L.C. Greenwood, Ernie Holmes and of course, Franco Harris.

    The Raiders of 1972 were coming off a disappointing 1971 season where they failed to win the division and make the playoffs. The team was in a transition and the success they enjoyed in the late 60s through early 70 was starting to wane. Teams had caught on to the mad bomber antics of Darryl Lamonica and changes were made. Ken Stabler was given the chance to start at quarterback.

    Early in the 1972 season, the Raiders and Steelers met in Pittsburgh in an electrifying match that showed what the Steelers were capable of. Lamonica came off the bench to spark the Raiders with a couple of late touchdowns but it was too little, too late as the Steelers got off the win.

    Lamonica got his job back and the Raiders went on to win their division and proceed into the playoffs anxious to prove to the NFL they were the elite team. After all, this was the remnant of the team that after losing to the Packers in SBII, lost in consecutive years, the AFC Championship to the eventual SB winners, Jets, Chiefs and Colts. As easily as they were 1-3 in the big game, they could very easily have been 3 time Super Bowl Champions as they led each of those AFC Championship games at one point.

    The year 1972 was also significant in that the Miami Dolphins were marching towards an undefeated season. As the playoffs approached, the Dolphins were to meet the Colts and the Raiders the Steelers. There were many who were anticipating an eventual AFC Championship between the Dolphins and the Raiders. Miami throttled the Colts.

    It was a cold day in Pittsburgh. Always is in December. The Steelers, although division winners, were still an unknown to the NFL. Loaded with young talent that would one day litter the hall of fame, no football expert had any idea what was in store this historic day.

    With Jack Lambert and Jack Ham, Mel Blount and the rest of the Steeler defenders, they matured and rose to a level of play not seen before or after in the NFL.

    The Raiders however, were equally as good. With their massive offensive line of Shell, Upshaw and Jim Otto and bruising running back Marv Hubbard and scat back Charlie Smith along with a receiving corps of Bilitnikoff and Mike Siani with Lamonica at quarterback, this team was loaded.

    The irresistible force met the immovable object and a collision for the ages occurred. In the first half both teams attacked and brutalized each other in one of the most memorable hardest hitting encounter you ever saw.

    Never mind the elements, which hindered the Raiders passing, these guys went at it like gladiators in the arena. Half time score, 0-0. Oh, there were opportunities and then frustration. Neither team could get the upper hand.

    In the second half, the Steelers turned a couple of turnovers into two field goals and led 6-0. In the fourth quarter, Madden made the move to Ken Stabler. Stabler was young and raw but, had tutored on the bench for 5 years and had been a start at the University of Alabama succeeding Joe Namath.

    He struggled at first, fumbling, stumbling and throwing an interception. The Raider defense though was equally up to the task and held time after time.

    With 3 short minutes left in the game, Stabler started the Raiders final drive. Slowly, meticulously he moved the team, first down, first down, first down to the Steeler 31 yard line. With barely over a minute left in the game, Stabler went back to pass. All receivers were covered so he tucked the ball under his arm and took off. He dashed up the middle of the field with Steeler defenders closing in on him. Before they could catch him, he lunged into the end zone and the game was tied with the extra point to come. Blanda added the extra point and with about 1:07 on the clock, the Raiders led 7-6.

    There was a lot of celebrating on the Raider sideline. This game was hard fought and exasperating. The Raiders were winning a well-deserved game they were destined to win. Now they could go on and face the undefeated Dolphins.

    The Steelers move the ball to their 40-yard line after the kick off. With 40 seconds left in the game, the Steelers found themselves with a fourth and 10 and no time outs. One play left and the game would be over.

    Bradshaw took the snap and back peddled into the pocket. The pocket broke down from the Raider rush Horace Jones made a huge push towards Bradshaw. Bradshaw juked Jones and avoided a second Raider defender and desperately fired the ball 20 yards up field to Frenchy Fuqua. Catch the ball and there is probably time for one or 2 plays from the Raider 40. Fuqua lunged for the ball. Defending on the play was Raider great, safety Jack Tatum, known for his ferocious hits. Tatum hit him all right. The two collided just as the ball got to Fuqua. Looking at the play, it appeared Tatum knocked the ball off of Fuqua’s chest just as the ball got there. It was simultaneous and instant. The ball bounced up into the air and Tatum and the other defenders threw their hands up into the air to celebrate a victory.

    However, as the ball came crashing to the ground, Franco Harris, who had been lazily trailing the play grabbed it just before it hit the ground. He scooped it up and scampered towards the sideline. Phil Villapiano made an advance on Harris but was clipped on the play, unseen by the official.

    As Harris scampered into the end zone, the stadium erupted. The officials however, made no signal. Incredibly for 10 minutes there was no signal. No touchdown, incompletion, nothing.

    The officials huddled together, a silence hushed over the field, the announcers stared in amazement. Nobody, knew what happened and what was going on.

    Suddenly, the head official went to the phones and made a call. Instant replay was not in use in those days so who he called is anybody’s guess. There were some who speculated that the official asked someone to look at the replay and make the call. There were others who said the official called security and said “look, the ball bounced off of Fuqua. Therefore, it’s an incomplete pass and the game is over. How much security can you give me? The reply was 6 cops. The official was then said to have replied 6 cops? Ok, 6 for Pittsburgh!

    Amazingly, the touchdown was awarded and when everything calmed down, the Raiders threw a Hail Mary incomplete and the Steelers walked off with the NFL’s most incredible win now known as the “Immaculate Reception”.

    The Steelers lost to the Dolphins and the Dolphins went on to record their now famous undefeated season. The streak was 17 games, which they advanced to 18 the following year. The streak ended at 18 games though, their opponent who stopped the streak? Yes, the Oakland Raiders. Ah, what could have been?

    Stabler went on to lead the Raiders after that and both teams would go on to play more heated memorable games and soon, the Steeler, Raider rivalry would become the NFL’s best.

    Both teams are struggling mightily this year and there will be no playoffs for either team. High draft picks is what they are playing for and pride. But, don’t expect a dog of a game on Sunday.

    You see, this is Raiders vs. Steelers and when these two teams get together, something crazy, zany and special happens and I expect no less on Sunday.

    Enjoy the game.

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    jwraider is offline Limited Membership
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    nice article...! but you called jack tatum a HER...

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    There's only one nation in football.
    Good story.

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    Immaculate deception, NFL films reshot film of the "catch" , a superimposed retake of a closeup off of a big screen...the close-up being zoomed in enough to hide the bounce that Franco gathered in.
    Jim Otto would have handled Manny Fernandez, the first EVER nose tackle and key to the Phins D. We proved as much the next year when Raiders tactics destroyed Shula's system head to head.
    Bruce Allen, young understudy of his Hall of Fame Father and Coach, George Allen learned about winning football in this season. Who is to say that had Oakland played his pops the outcome would be the same, or the eventual chance and circiumstance would lead us to having his services as GM of the year in a superbowl season last year? Strange how it works out, a Raiders theme, even when we lose SOMEHOW(in the long run) we win!
    Just makes the pain of this season somewhat necessary as we evolve to new levels of Excellence!
    Last edited by Mr.Murder; 12-02-2003 at 01:25 PM.

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    Originally posted by jwraider
    nice article...! but you called jack tatum a HER...

    I just fixed that for him...

    Nice read Pietro!

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    Talk about getting robbed, the refs didn't have clue, nothing changes in 31 years, and if they have reversed that incorrect call, they would have been torn limb from limb by the Pittsburg crowd, believe it or not i still can't watch that play, And i don't like Franco Harris one bit.

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    I'm over here now!
    Originally posted by AceRimRat
    Terrific piece, Pietro, as always!

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    However, as the ball came crashing to the ground, Franco Harris, who had been lazily trailing the play grabbed it just before it hit the ground. He scooped it up and scampered towards the sideline. Phil Villapiano made an advance on Harris but was clipped on the play, unseen by the official.

    Actually it hit the ground

    Nice read....****ty outcome.
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    I agree with Mr. should be always refered to as the "Immaculate Deception"

    You mean to tell me that their are no clear cut films of the ball either being a catch or a bounce.

    We all know it was a bounce including Harris who to this day shys away from the question of whether he caught the ball on a bounce or not.

    Just another in a long line of screw jobs done to us by the NFL.

    By the way Pietro..nice read

    Bleeding Silver and Black for over four decades...44 years and counting !!!

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    Great story

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