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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Five Greatest Moments In Pittsburgh Steelers History

Here We Go: Part Two

Moment One: The Immaculate Reception

You had to know it would be this moment. But I’m not going to dwell on the mechanics of the play. Everyone knows what happened. It occurred during the 1972 AFC Divisional playoff game between the Steelers and Oakland Raiders. With just 22 seconds left to go in the game, Pittsburgh found themselves in a dire situation. Oakland had just scored taking the lead 7-6. It was fourth and ten and Pittsburgh had no time outs remaining. Bradshaw, after shaking two defenders, searched for an open receiver. Eyeing fullback John “Frenchy” Fuqua, he threw the ball towards the 35. The Raiders safety, Jack Tatum hit Fuqua just as the ball arrived and the pass tumbled end over end towards the ground. Franco Harris, who had been blocking, made his way down field as an additional receiver and managed to be in the right place at the right time. Snatching the ball just before it hit the turf, he ran for a touchdown which gave the Steelers the lead and the win.

The irony of it all is that most people who take that play out of context think two things. This occurred during the Super Bowl and that Pittsburgh won it. To put it into perspective, this occurred during the 1972 season, the fairytale undefeated season of the Miami Dolphins who beat the Steelers in the AFC Championship game and eventually won Super Bowl VII. The reality is that there has never been a more controversial call in American football. Who did the ball touch first, Tatum or Fuqua? Did the ball touch the ground before Harris grabbed it?
Players, professors, and historians have all but definitively proven that the ball hit Tatum on the shoulder but the only films of the play are either obscured by goal posts are missed the catch as Harris nabbed the ball out of frame.

What cannot be disputed is the effect that the play had on Pittsburgh football. After 40 years of disappointment and mediocrity, the Pittsburgh Steelers had been given a spark of success. That spark burned into a blazing inferno known as Steeler Nation. Two years later Pittsburgh began their NFL dynasty winning four Super Bowls in six years. A town that faced hardships with the collapse of the Steel Industry were suddenly giving a beacon of hope in team who were named after the very industry which collapsed. As residents of the area moved away to find work, they took their love of the team with them and passed it onto new generations creating a tidal wave of Terrible Towels across the nation and the world. The Steelers became a force to be reckoned with and are now attempting to capture their sixth Super Bowl trophy, a record in the NFL. They currently share the record of five wins with Dallas and San Francisco.

Had Harris missed that catch or had it been ruled illegal for one reason or another, who is to say what would be the legacy that followed. The following year the club went 10-4 and had a rematch of sorts with Oakland to which Oakland won. In any case, Miami won their second Super Bowl that year. However, the history of the Steelers success can be attributed to a snowball effect from support of the fans, the emergence of Steel Curtain, and the humble and blue collar rooted work ethic of the team’s administration. But if you had to cite a moment when the tide turned, I think you can agree that the Immaculate Reception is it.

If I had to pick five more moments to make this a Top 10 list, here's the ones I would pick.
  1. Harbaugh to Bailey hail mary pass broken up in the end zone.
    1996 AFC Championship Game: Colts vs. Steelers.
  2. The first ever Terrible Towel wave
    1975 AFC Divisonal Playoff Game
  3. Gary Anderson 50-yard field goal in OT to beat the Oilers on New Year's Eve.
    1989 AFC Wild Card Playoff Game
  4. Antwaan Randle El's 43-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward on a fake reverse.
    2005 Super Bowl XL
  5. Lambert throws Cliff Harris to the ground after taunting Roy Gerela for his missed field goal attempt.
    1975 Super Bowl X

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