PITTSBURGH — The retirement of the uniform No. 32 of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris is just one of a number of events the Steelers have planned to mark the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception this December.
On Friday, Dec. 23, the anniversary to the date of Harris’ improbable catch and touchdown that has gone down in the history books as the greatest play in NFL history, the Steelers will host a ceremony at the site of his accomplishment.
There is a permanent marker with Harris’ footprint in the sidewalk along West General Robinson Street, just outside the east side of Acrisure Stadium in the exact spot where Harris made a one-footed shoestring catch of a ball that caromed off Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum — or depending on who you ask, perhaps Steelers halfback Frenchy Fuqua.
In 1972, that site was contained by Three Rivers Stadium, but during the process to demolish that ballpark, several locations were mapped in order to preserve them for history, including the Pittsburgh Pirates home plate and bases, and the spot where Harris helped change the Steelers’ fortunes forever.
At that monument this December, Harris will have a public ceremony surrounded by some of his remaining teammates from 1972 and at least two members of the Oakland Raiders. The Steelers will also play the radio broadcast of the game to count down to the exact moment — 3:29 p.m. — when Harris made the catch.
The Steelers knew that they wanted to host a home game the weekend of the anniversary and asked the NFL ahead of time to do so. It just so happened that the Steelers and Raiders each finished in second place in their divisions in 2021, bringing the Raiders to Pittsburgh in 2021.
The league was able to take advantage of the coincidence and put the Raiders on the Steelers schedule for Dec. 24, a night game on national television on NFL Network. That night at halftime, the Steelers will officially retire Harris’ No. 32.
“When we first told the league that we wanted to have a home game that weekend, we pointed out that we had the Raiders on our schedule this year, not thinking that they would actually put the Raiders in Pittsburgh that weekend,” president Art Rooney II said. “So I was surprised when it happened.”
Rooney and Harris said the Raiders have been cooperative about being a part of the proceedings, and the two spoke with Raiders owner Mark Davis about their memories of the play.
“Over the years, most of them have gotten over it and kind of enjoy it,” Rooney said. “I don’t think Al (Davis) had ever gotten over it and I don’t think John Madden ever got over it. But I think the rest of them have had at least a tiny sense of humor and have been good sports about it.”
Harris said he’s glad that the play continues to be discussed and has connected with a generation of fans that weren’t even alive on that fateful afternoon in 1972.
“Fifty years, that’s a long time, and to have it so alive, still thrilling and exciting really says a lot and means a lot,” Harris said. “I have a lot of people tell me they were at the game and that they saw it on television. It’s important to me that they stay connected to it, even though I know that 100,000 people weren’t at the game.”
The game was not televised in Pittsburgh, so the only people in town that saw the play were at Three Rivers Stadium, like Rooney, who was working for the team on the equipment staff. The rest of the area had to listen on the radio to Jack Fleming’s call, so it will be an appropriate way to commemorate the anniversary of the event.