FILE – In this Dec. 23, 1972, file photo, Franco Harris (32) of the Pittsburgh Steelers eludes a tackle by Jimmy Warren of the Oakland Raiders on a 42-yard run to score the winning touchdown in the American Conference playoff game in Pittsburgh. The Minnesota Vikings’ last-second playoff win over the New Orleans Saints brought back memories of another desperation playoff touchdown, the Immaculate Reception. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck, File)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — It may not happen again for a thousand Christmases the way it happened Saturday for Franco Harris and the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Oakland Raiders under the dark skies in Three Rivers Stadium.

Harris, the Steelers’ own Black Italian Santa Claus, caught a fluttering Steeler pass that Oakland defender Jack Tatum had batted away and danced 42 yards for a touchdown to give Pittsburgh an incredible 13-7 National Football League playoff victory.

Oakland, king of the West Division, had seemingly been rescued after a miserable offensive afternoon when backup quarterback Kenny Stabler scrambled 30 yards to the goal with 1:13 remaining to give the Raiders a 7-6 edge.

When Pittsburgh lined up for its last shot at glory, the clock showed 51 seconds and the end zone was 80 yards away.

Quarterback Terry Bradshaw hoped to pass for quick gains, charging within range for a third Roy Gerela field goal that could win it.

The blond from Louisiana Tech rifled a nine-yard pass to Harris. An 11-yarder to John Fuqua pushed the ball to the Steeler 40, but the clock was down to 0:37.

And then: Incomplete. Incomplete. Incomplete. That led to fourth down and Oakland was 22 seconds away from bringing tears to the eyes of most of the 50.350 in the big circular stadium.

Bradshaw tried one last time, evading a rush by Oakland’s Tony Clines and Horace Jones. He threw up the middle toward Fuqua near the Raider 30.

Tatum slammed into Fuqua just as the ball arrived, sending the lootball sailing back toward the Pittsburgh goal. Harris, trailing the play, grabbed the ball and dashed toward the left sideline.

The left side began to open. Jimmy Warren, a veteran Oakland defensive back, had the last shot at the 230-pound rookie from Penn State , He missed and the Steeler faithful exploded from their seats.

Pittsburgh not only won, but sewed up the homefield advantage for the Dec. 31 steppingstone to Super Bowl VII against the winner of today’s other American Conference playoff between Cleveland and Miami.

“Fourth down, fourth down,” muttered John Madden, the losing coach from Oakland. “It’s really unfair to lose like that. It wouldn’t happen that way again in a million years.”

“He went up for the ball,” Tatum said later. “I believe it bounced off Fuqua. He was in front of me and I just hit him, not the ball.”

Fred Swearingen, the referee, talked with Art McNally, NFL supervisor of officials, in the press box by telephone. McNally had seen the replay on television.

After the discussion, the touchdown was allowed, although NFL officials later said the conversation between Swearingen and McNally had no actual bearing on the ruling.

The stadium almost cracked at the seams when the touchdown was signaled.

Finally authorities harnessed the bedlam so the final five seconds could be played.

All that happened was a kickoff return and one incomplete pass before time ran out for Oakland. Pittsburgh had waited 40 years to win even a division crown and now Chuck Noll, in his fourth season as the Steelers’ head coach, had them one step away from the Super Bowl.

For most of the game it seemed that Gerela’s field goals of 18 and 29 yards would stand up for a 6-0 victory in what had been a bitter battle of defenses.

Then came Stabler, a substitute near-hero. Then came Harris, the man who is half Italian, half Black and all football player.

“I couldn’t even see what was happening because somebody rapped me,” said Bradshaw. “But I’ll watch it all day Sunday on television reruns and enjoy it every time.”

Saturday’s first half was scoreless as the two man-handling defenses played to a standstill.

Noll passed up a shot at a 38-yard field goal and it appeared a crucial move when the Steelers ran short on a fourth-and-one situation.

Bradshaw came out firing in the second half, hitting five times for 55 yards as Pittsburgh moved 67 yards to the Oakland 11. The march stalled there and Gerela’s 18-yard field goal made it 3-0 with 9:52 left in the third quarter.

Oakland’s offense continually sputtered under No. 1 quarterback Daryle Lamonica and the onrushing Pittsburgh defense held him to 6-of-18 passing for 44 yards.

Stabler, the shaggy-haired former Alabama star, trotted onto the field with 11:2 to go in the game. He seemed to ignite Oakland a bit, but then fumbled when rapped by Steeler defensive end Dwight White at the Raider 35 with 5:50 on the clock.

Mike Wagner covered Stabler’s fumble and it led to Gerela’s three-pointer from 29 yards that made it 6-0 with 3:50 remaining. It seemed enough at the time.

Stabler fired for nine yards to tight end Raymond Chester on a crucial third down play, but Oakland laced a fourth-and-one at its 29-yard line with 2:30 left. The Raiders went for it and Charlie Smith gained five for a first down.

Stabler picked away, finding Pete Banaszak for 12 yards and Fred Biletnikoff for 12. Then it went to Mike Siani for seven and a first down at the Steeler 30.

Pittsburgh fans squirmed in their seats and suddenly gasped when Stabler eluded a pass rush and streaked 30 yards down an open lane to the left to score with 1:13 left. Old pro George Blanda’s extra point made it 7-6.

Then came the miracle play, the one NFL watchers will remember for years.

___

EDITOR’S NOTE: After the Vikings’ playoff win over the Saints as time expired Sunday, The Associated Press is republishing its story about the most famous game-ending touchdown in NFL history, the Immaculate Reception on Dec. 23, 1972. Like the Vikings, the Steelers were trailing by one point and out of field goal range when they scored on the final play of a divisional playoff game. Terry Bradshaw’s pass to John Fuqua was deflected into the arms of Franco Harris, who ran in for the touchdown to beat the Raiders. The AP’s story contains a racial and ethnic description of Harris that would violate current standards. The AP has republished the text without editing.

Also On New Pittsburgh Courier:
comments – add yours
×