Franco Harris spoke about the upcoming 50th anniversary of the immaculate reception when he was interviewed Thursday as part of the NFL’s schedule release show. The play, recognized by the Pittsburgh Steelers as the most iconic play in franchise history, is one of the most well-recognizable in NFL history. So much so that it was voted by media members as the most iconic play in NFL history during a poll in 2019.
“It’s hard to believe,” said Harris. “50 years ago, wow, that was a heck of a moment for us. I just want to thank the NFL for lining up everything to make this happen. 50 years ago we played on a Saturday and this year it’ll be played on a Saturday 50 years later. Thank you NFL for making that happen. I mean, that is exciting. We’re just so excited here in Pittsburgh and that’s going to be one heck of a day.”
Pittsburgh Steelers’ fans know the play all too well as it led to the organization’s first-ever playoff victory. After a pass from quarterback Terry Bradshaw was tipped it landed into the hands of Harris who caught the pass inches above the ground. He then ran all the way into the end zone as time expired giving the 1972 Steelers the 13-7 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
There remains controversy as to whether or not the catch should’ve been allowed. At the time, a rule was in place that prevented anybody on the offense from catching a pass that was tipped by one of their teammates, but players on offense could still catch a ball that was tipped by a defender. In this play, the pass was tipped when Steelers’ half back John Fuqua collided with Raiders’ safety Jack Tatum. The officials ruled that Tatum tipped the ball first, but many members of that Raiders team still dispute that call to this very day.
“Legally, we all know it had to hit Jack Tatum,” said Harris when asked whether he thought Fuqua tipped the pass first or not. “I was also asked tonight, ‘Franco is that skid mark still there?’ so there’s still a lot of controversy about that play, but I did tell people that it was the Steelers second playoff game in their 40-year history. It was the first touchdown scored postseason by the Steelers … a lot of history here.”
The Steelers lost in the next round to the eventual Super Bowl champions Miami Dolphins en route to their historic 14-0 perfect season, but the play, which is the first-ever postseason touchdown scored by the Steelers, still signaled a turning point for the franchise. Prior to the 1972 season, the Steelers had only finished above .500 nine times in their 40-year existence and had only appeared in one other playoff game, a 1947 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
In the rest of the decade, the Steelers ended up becoming the first NFL franchise to win four Super Bowls, which they won in a six-season span. They’ve now won six total, tied with the New England Patriots as the most by a NFL team. The organization has been so consistently successful since the play that they’ve only had three head coaches since in Chuck Noll (1969-91), Bill Cowher (1992-2006) and Mike Tomlin (2007-present).
The Steelers will play the Raiders a day after the 50th anniversary of the immaculate reception this upcoming season. Owner Art Rooney, in an interview with Missi Matthews, said that the team has been planning ceremonies for both the game itself and the actual anniversary.