The 1972 AFC Divisional Round is hugely historically important not just for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but for the history of the NFL. It marked the first postseason victory in history for a franchise that was formed in 1933. And it gave birth to the most iconic play in the history of the game, which has been voted the greatest play in NFL history.
It’s so intuitively obvious that it very nearly didn’t happen; after all, the fact that it was so incredibly improbable defines its unique place in history. But the circumstances of the game also make it remarkable as you recall everything that took place up to that point.
The man who authored the Immaculate Reception, Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris, explained to his former teammate Craig Wolfley yesterday during an interview for the team’s website.
“For 58 minutes, people tell me it was one of the toughest defensive games that they’ve ever seen”, he said. “And in the last two minutes, two incredible offensive plays happen. Kenny Stabler went in for a touchdown on a quarterback scramble that was incredible, and the only thing that could beat that was called immaculate”.
It wasn’t much doing up until the waning moments of the game. Stabler’s 30-yard scramble late in the fourth quarter was the Oakland Raiders’ very first points, and gave them a one-point lead to best two chip-shot field goals by Steelers kicker Roy Gerela.
The Steelers netted 252 yards of offense on that day, 60 of which came on Harris’ receiving touchdown off of a deflected pass, which he very much scooped out of the air well before it ever touched the ground, a topic that should no longer be the subject of debate nor controversy. The Raiders had just 216 yards of offense, quite a bit of it coming on their own final drive.
The quarterback in question for the Raiders, Stabler, finished the game completing six out of 12 pass attempts with 57 passing yards. Daryle Lamonica completing just six of 18 for 45 yards, and threw two interceptions, picked off by Jack Ham and Andy Russell.
Neither team was overly efficient rushing the ball, especially if you remove Stabler’s one 30-yard scoring scramble. As for Harris himself, he totaled 64 rushing yards on 18 attempts that day, but he also had 96 receiving yards on five catches, one of which, for 60 yards, will forever be synonymous with his name. And will forever be regarded as immaculate.