The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Immaculate Reception: 40 Years Later

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Four decades ago, on Dec. 23, 1972, the city of Pittsburgh received the greatest Christmas present any Steel City resident could ask for: a winning football team.

The hapless Steelers operated in utter hopelessness for 40 years prior, earning just one winning season since 1943. But this Steelers bunch flipped the script, and the Steeler faithful finally had something to stand behind. Led by head coach Chuck Noll, quarterback Terry Bradshaw, defensive tackle Joe Green and running back Franco Harris, the team earned a playoff berth for the first time in franchise history.

Just two days before Christmas, the Steelers' first playoff game was sold out and spirits ran high throughout Three Rivers Stadium. But little did fans know they were about to witness the "greatest play in football history."

Despite their season's success, the Steelers found themselves down by one point with 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Bradshaw threw on 4th-and-10 with the Steelers' last chance to reverse their fate hanging in the balance. But the play didn't go down the way it was drawn.

Instead of the ball reaching John "Frenchy" Fuqua—the intended target—it ricocheted and landed gracefully in the hands of rookie Franco Harris, just above the shoelaces, who then ran the ball for a touchdown and gave the Steelers their first playoff win.

The play itself was serendipitous, and to witness it was a stroke of luck, but what happened after the game was even more spectacular. The Steelers went on to four Super Bowl wins in the next eight years, becoming the powerhouse franchise that we know today.

Those who were there to witness it say that it was the greatest sports moment of their lives. It was a turning point for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the city and, of course, their fans.

Special Thanks To: Franco Harris, Michael Ord, Sharon Levosky, Bob Dvorchak, Guy Junker, Kathy Goss, David Goss, Matt Goss, Gregory L.Peterson, Jerome Bettis Grille 36, Clark Bar, Mario's Southside, The Pittsburgh Steelers, Linda Parker at The Post-Gazette, Matthew Strauss at the Heinz History Center

Photo/Video Footage Credit: Library and Archives Division, Sen. John Heinz History Center

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