Even on that play, the best within the 103-year historical past of the NFL, Franco Harris was a lot greater than the beneficiary of a blessed bounce, and a lot greater than the Steelers rookie who stumbled into the right place on the right time.
He was good sufficient to comply with the ball, an athlete’s most basic task. As absolutely as you comply with the money in business, politics, and crime, you comply with the ball in sports activities.
Joe Paterno taught him that at Penn State. So, on December 23, 1972, when Terry Bradshaw threw a desperation fourth-down cross close to the top of a Pittsburgh-Oakland playoff sport that the Raiders led by some extent, the operating again informed himself to go to the ball.
You are presupposed to compete via the referee’s whistle, and so the trailing Harris saved operating downfield when there was little obvious motive to. Never was luck so clearly the residue of design. Harris put himself there to make his controversial shoestring catch off the controversial deflection and to attain the controversial 60-yard landing that made Steelers 13, Raiders 7 one thing no witness might ever overlook.
The Pittsburgh franchise had by no means earlier than received a playoff sport, and even scored a landing in a playoff sport. So all through western Pennsylvania, the identify “Immaculate Reception” was privately and even publicly endorsed by any Roman Catholic priest who hoped to remain within the good graces of his parishioners.
I was an 8-year-old viewer on the time, and it’s my first vivid soccer reminiscence. Before, throughout, or after each single Steelers sport I’ve watched over the many years, I’ve considered that childhood time and place when there was no such factor as cable TV, the NFL RedZone channel, or many roughing-the-passer calls.
Sunday afternoons have been lots easier again then. You watched the Giants and the Jets and possibly one out there nationwide TV sport, often involving the Steelers or Cowboys, and the officers weren’t too frightened about defending weak quarterbacks, receivers, or anybody else from violent hits.
As it turned out, Harris grew to become identified, partly, for getting out of bounds earlier than absorbing an pointless shot to his rib cage. But on the largest play of his life, he stayed inbounds, barely, whereas stiff-arming Oakland’s Jimmy Warren and operating into the top zone with 5 seconds to go, turning Three Rivers Stadium the other way up.
The 1972 Rookie of the Year was named a Pro Bowler in 9 straight seasons, received 4 Super Bowl titles, and earned induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And but folks perpetually wished to speak to him concerning the Immaculate Reception. Hundreds of individuals. Thousands of individuals. Hundreds of hundreds of individuals.
Harris by no means allow them to down, both, all the time dealing with the requests with humility and beauty. The similar goes for referee Fred Swearingen who, with out the advantage of immediate replay to find out whether or not Pittsburgh’s Frenchy Fuqua or Oakland’s Jack Tatum or each had deflected the ball, determined that the landing ought to stand.
Swearingen as soon as launched Arnold Palmer to a younger up-and-comer named Jack Nicklaus at an Athens, Ohio, golf exhibition. The ref had no clue he was beginning one other heated rivalry when he enraged Raiders coach John Madden and his gamers by deciding that Tatum had made contact with the ball (the principles then prohibited an offensive participant from catching a ball first touched by a teammate except a defender additionally touched it), and that Harris had caught the ball earlier than it hit the bottom.
Before issuing his judgment, Swearingen had grabbed the Pirates’ telephone within the stadium’s baseball dugout to talk with the league’s supervisor of officers, who informed him the decision was good. “We’ve got five seconds to play,” Art McNally informed him. “Let’s get it over with.”
“Nobody really knew,” Swearingen informed me years later. “Nobody could tell who hit the ball. My only rationale was the ball would not shoot that far back and that far out to the side unless the defense hit it. The offense was trying to catch it; they’re not going to knock it back there.”
Harris by some means gathered the lengthy rebound on the run, saved his ft, and saved his cool. “One million to one odds on this one,” the legendary Curt Gowdy mentioned on the printed. “You talk about Christmas miracles, here’s the miracle of all miracles.”
For my technology, that decision within the Steelers’ huddle, 66 Circle Option, stands as a lifetime marker. That’s what nice sports activities moments do. They change the sport and encourage reminiscences of the family members who have been there with you once they occurred.
So we have been all hit onerous by the information that this bearded nobleman was all of the sudden gone at age 72, right on the doorstep of the fiftieth anniversary of the Immaculate Reception on Friday and his jersey retirement ceremony in Pittsburgh on Saturday. No soccer participant was ever a greater consultant of his staff. No dynasty was ever a greater consultant of its area.
On Tuesday, hours earlier than his loss of life, Harris was on SiriusXM Radio with Chris Russo to speak about his catch. After he was launched, Harris informed the host that he was “doing great, fantastic. And as you said, 50 years ago. And it still feels brand new.”
It nonetheless feels model new to us too, Mr. Harris, and all the time will. Thanks for the reminiscences.