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Today in Sports History: 12/23 | The Immaculate Reception

Today in sports history, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris made one of the most iconic plays in NFL history. In a 1972 AFC Divisional round game, Harris caught a pass that was deflected by another Steelers player. He ran the ball all the way into the end zone to score the go-ahead touchdown, as the Steelers would prevail over the Raiders. Dubbed “The Immaculate Reception,” this play locked Franco Harris into the NFL history.

franco harris the immaculate reception
Credit: Harry Cabluck/AP Photo

The Immaculate Reception Controversy

The Immaculate Reception was recently named the top play in NFL history. The controversy arises due to whether or not the ball touched the ground while Harris caught it. Due to not having instant replay at the time, the referees had no possible way of overturning the call.

The Steelers were trailing the Raiders late into the fourth quarter and, with the way the Raiders defense was playing, it felt like the Steelers needed a miracle. Quarterback Terry Bradshaw dropped back to pass and threw it over the middle to John Fuqua. As Fuqua attempted to make the catch, he was blindsided by Raiders safety Jack Tatum. The ball was popped out and Franco Harris caught it and ran in the go-ahead touchdown.

The call was initially a touchdown from one referee, with the others not making a call. Also, at the time, the rule was that if the ball hit a defender it was ruled incomplete. This was up for discussion too, as the ball looks to hit Tatum before anyone else. As the referee went to have a discussion with officials in the press box, the final ruling on the play was a touchdown. Some speculated this call from the referees was to understand how much security was in the building to escort them out.

This play was one of the precursors to instant replay, something that would change the landscape of the NFL. The Steelers went on to lose the AFC Championship to the undefeated Miami Dolphins, but The Immaculate Reception will always be remembered in NFL lore.


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