Before 1972, the Pittsburgh Steelers hadn’t won an NFL championship for 40 years. But on December 23, 1972, the team had its first playoff game in franchise history. Down by one point against the Oakland Raiders, it was 4th down with only seconds to go in the 4th quarter, when one of the most famous—and controversial—plays in American sports history went down.
Known as the Immaculate Reception, the play is memorialized on the exact spot where it happened, on the site of the old Three Rivers Stadium between today’s Heinz Field and PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers were hosting the game, and the Raiders were leading with 22 seconds to go—enough time for one last play. Quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw a pass to receiver John “Frenchy” Fuqua, and that’s were opinions start to verge. The pass was either batted away by Raiders Safety Jack Tatum, or the ball bounced off of him and was scooped up by fullback Franco Harris just before it hit the turf. However it happened, Harris ran the ball for a touchdown, and a Steelers victory, just as the clock ran out.
It took 15 minutes to clear fans off the field so the Steelers could kick the extra point. They won the game, and even though they would lose the next week to the Miami Dolphins, the Immaculate Reception signaled a start to the Steelers’ dominance of the NFL in the 1970s.
The play earned its name from a caller on broadcaster Myron Cope’s radio show, but not without controversy as to who the ball actually touched first. The game tape is murky (you can watch a clip of the original broadcast here), and the rules fairly complicated, but with no instant replay at the time, the call on the field stood. Still, the play has become better known by Raiders fans as the Immaculate Deception.
In addition to the monument here, the city has two statues of Harris catching the ball, one even greeting travelers at Pittsburgh International Airport, right alongside George Washington.
Know Before You Go
The monument is on the walk into Heinz Field. From the Stage AE concert venue, walk up Chuck Noll Way to General Robinson Street and make a left, and the plaque will be on your left.