As the Pittsburgh Steelers meet up with the Oakland Raiders in week two of the 2002 season, the old rivalry resurfaces and so does talk of the Immaculate Reception. Simply put, the Immaculate Reception is the sand in Oakland's craw, and it feels bad to their fans even now, ages after that football game in 1972.
It was the end of a playoff game of December 23, 1972, and the Raiders were ahead, 7-6, after QB Ken Stabler had run a 30-yard touchdown. John Madden was the coach then, and was revolving his quarterbacks -- Daryle Lamonica had started but was replaced later in the game with Stabler. So then the Steeler offensive was on the field and there were less than two minutes left to play. QB Terry Bradshaw then threw a pass to running back Frenchy Fuqua. Raiders safety Jack Tatum saw it, and began running at Fuqua; they collided like two freight trains, and the ball went flying backward from them. Franco Harris -- so new to the Steel Curtain that headlines still called him "Franco Who?" -- spied the ball, unbelievably, coming his way, although he was only supposed to take a minor part in this play as it was written. It flew for 60 yards. He went for it and caught it, turned for the end zone and lumbered away for a touchdown.
The football rule at the time was that an offensive player cannot touch a ball after another offensive player, unless a defensive player has touched it in between. So the Steeler touchdown was good only if Fuqua hadn't touched the ball; or if he had, then if Tatum had also touched it after him. Neither NFL nor NBC-TV cameras had clear angles that could show this moment indisputably. It was a judgement of the referees, and they decided for the Steelers.
That moment carved out many later ones: The Raiders lost their postseason run that year, and the Steelers went on to win 4 Superbowls.
Most Steelerisms can be traced back to sportscaster and onetime Voice of the Steelers Myron Cope. To his regret, Cope happened to be heading down to the field when the reception occurred, so Jack Fleming was still in the booth and called the play. It is one of the most-replayed segments of league history. But it was the next day that Cope named it on WTAE-TV. Cope did not think up the phrase; it was a man named Michael Ord. The phrase "Franco Harris' Immaculate Reception" was later copyrighted by Franco Harris. But it is obviously a Pittsburghism -- Who knows what Oakland fans called it amongst themselves, many of whom still feel they were robbed?
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