What is Immaculate? It defies belief and can change a circumstance profoundly. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, there have been many great plays over the years but three stick out as truly ground breaking.
These plays were unexpected, they ultimately won games, they were miraculous on many levels to a franchise that knows something about football miracles. In Pittsburgh, these players will always be known as the "Immaculates."
Prior to 1972 to the Steelers were so great, in fact, they stunk. They were the losingest team of the NFL's first 50 years and made it to the post season one time. There were some competitive teams but they all had an uncanny ability to find some way to lose the game.
Apart from their rough style of play nobody feared Pittsburgh. Yet.
New head coach Chuck Noll certainly turned things around in his first four years with the Steelers. He began building the roster that would lead him to four world championships and in 1972 the team was ready to make a run.
In the teams first home game in their 40 years history the menacing Oakland Raiders came to town in a hard fought defensive struggle. Near the end of the fourth quarter Oakland quarterback Ken Stabler took off towards the end zone on those glass knees of his and made the score a whopping 7-6 with 1:17 remaining in the game.
It seemed all but lost at this point for a team that over came so much.
Enter Franco Harris.
With 22 seconds remaining it was 4th-and-10; desperation time. Franco Harris was originally intended to block on this play but went forward in case quarterback Terry Bradshaw needed an extra receiver.
What followed next would be remembered as the most unbelievable play in NFL history. With the game blacked out in Pittsburgh this was the radio broadcast that went out that day.
Twenty-two seconds remaining and this crowd is standing, and Bradshaw's back and looking again. Bradhsaw running out of the pocket, looking for somebody to throw it to, fires in down field.. and there's a collision and ball is.. IT'S CAUGHT OUT THE AIR, THE BALL IS CAUGHT OUT BY FRANCO HARRIS, Harris is going for a touchdown for Pittsburgh..with five seconds left Franco pulled in the ball, I don't even know where it came from!
That is the sound that forever separated the old from the new with the Steelers. So unbelievable was the play that it would forever be known as the Immaculate Reception. Pittsburgh eventually won four Super Bowls in that decade.
That is exactly what Ben Roethlisberger did.
It was amazing enough that the Steelers quarter back threw two first quarter touch downs against a team that nearly went undefeated. It was also spectacular that Roethlisberger had the day he did when the Colts didn't even dream that he would take to the air.
The remarkable moment in the game came when the Steelers all but had this playoff upset in the bag at the Colts two yard-line after a sack forced a turnover on downs. Ben couldn't simply kneel down and run out the clock, Indianapolis still had two time outs left.
With the Score 21-18, Roethlisberger handed the ball off to reliable running back Jerome Bettis to score a touchdown and put the game out of reach.
A linebacker jarred the ball loose from Bettis' grips and it hit the turf. Fumble.
Roethlisberger immediately reacted.
The Steelers had the offensive line out, they had no speed on the field. With Nick Harper running down the field racing toward his end zone Ben Roethlisberger extended his arm for a last effort tackle and saved the touch down. It has been called the Immaculate Redemption.
Indianapolis failed to score a touchdown and missed a game-tying field goal that iced the game and had Pittsburgh advancing to the AFC Championship game. Miracles happen when you least expect them to. Had Roethlisberger not made the saving tackle, the game would have been over the other way.
The Steelers went on to win Super Bowl XL and three years later they found themselves back in the big game, this time a linebacker who was never supposed to make it in the league performed well above his abilities.
James Harrison was cut not once, not twice, but three separate times by the Steelers. The eventually defensive player of the year was at a time so discouraged with his chances in football that was contemplating going to become a driver for Grey Hound bus service.
Fast-forward a few years to near the end of the first half of Super Bowl XLIII, the Cardinals on the two-yard line ready to score.
A short pass by Kurt Warner was intercepted by Harrison at the goal line and taken back a full 100 yards. He was touched by six different Cardinals on the play. It was a 14 point swing and will always be known in Pittsburgh as the Immaculate "Interception."
All three of these players made incredible plays that were pivotal to contributing to the Steelers championship success. While the phrase "Immaculate" might seem over used in the Steel Cities sports lore there really isn't a better way to describe them.
The Steelers and their Immaculates will be spoken of for generations.