The Immaculate Reception by Franco Harris on December 23, 1972 is the greatest play in Pittsburgh Steelers history, and probably the greatest in NFL history. During his press conference today that announced that his No. 32 would be retired, Harris talked about what made that play happen.
“At the collision, I see some of the Raiders starting to jump up and down and celebrating. And those couple seconds, I believe made a difference of me getting in the end zone. Of them stopping for that couple seconds and celebrating, that enabled me to get into the end zone,” Harris said via the team’s YouTube channel.
On the TV broadcast, after Jack Tatum breaks up the pass intended for Frenchy Fuqua, you can clearly see No. 20 Jimmy Warren and No. 86 Gerald Irons celebrating. Eventually, Warren sees Harris running with the ball, and by that time he’s already past Irons. Warren made an attempt to tackle Harris around the 10-yard line, but Harris’ stiff arm was enough to get by Warren and into the end zone and give Pittsburgh the 13-7 win and a trip to the AFC Championship game. The stiff arm of Warren is the only thing that Harris says he remembers from the play.
“The only thing I remember is stiff-arming Jimmy Warren going to the end zone. That’s my first memory after leaving the backfield. I don’t remember the ball, I don’t remember seeing a collision, I don’t remember anything.”
Sometimes in sports and in life, your insticts just take over to make something happen. In this case, that was clearly the case for Harris. His insinicts kicked into gear, and before he knew it, he was making a play that will be remembered for the rest of time.
Harris’ number retirement ceremony will take place at Acrisure Stadium against the Raiders on Christmas Eve, the day after the 50th anniversary of the historical moment. Surely, memories of the historic catch and moment will be in the heads of everyone who was around to witness and be a part of it. The video of the catch will be on TV screens across the nation. And when they are, be sure to look for the Raiders who celebrated the play before it was over.
Not only is it a lesson to never stop playing until you hear the final whistle, but it should also be noted that according to Harris, that’s what made the play happen. If either Warren or Irons or any other Raider on the field tracked the ball until the end, the Immaculate Reception could’ve ended with a game-ending tackle. Instead, it will go down as one of the best plays to ever happen in any sport.