Immaculate Reception 'A Football Life': Documentary Shows Enormity of Play

Richard LangfordCorrespondent IDecember 19, 2012

1984:  Running back Franco Harris #32 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs during a game in the 1984 NFL season.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

On December 23, 1972 the Raiders Jack Tatum laid the lumber on Steelers' halfback John "Frenchy" Fuqua just as a Terry Bradshaw pass was arriving.

The ball bounded off the colliding bodies and was plucked off the tip of the turf by the Steelers Franco Harris, who then ran it in for the winning score in the AFC divisional playoff game.

We are, of course, talking about the Immaculate Reception, and that is the subject of the NFL Channel's latest installment of their excellent A Football Life. 

This is the most iconic play in the history of the NFL, yet this documentary gives it a fresh spin. It interweaves how this play has grown into the lore of Americana with the controversy surrounding the legitimacy of the play.

The issue with the play is whether or not Frenchy Fuqua or Tatum touched the ball. If Fuqua touched the ball and Tatum never did, the play should not have counted.

Then there is also the question of whether or not Harris got the ball before it touched the grass. This play is so close, that it is impossible to tell by looking at the film. As this documentary tells us, this film has been poured over countless times.

The documentary even refers to it as the "Zapruder Film" of the NFL.

The documentary goes as far as to have the former director of the CIA comment on the play, and he says that after countless viewings of the play, that it was called as it happened.

Still, it isn't the controversy itself that is fascinating about this documentary, but how they capture the reactions to it from the various players involved.

These guys still have strong feelings about this play. Numerous players were interviewed for this documentary, but one notable party was absent. That would be the Raiders coach at the time, John Madden.

They point out during the film that Madden is still so upset about the play that he refused to be interviewed for the film, and it's not like the guy is camera shy.

One of the greatest moments of this documentary is during a clip of former Raiders linebacker Phil Villapiano sharing that every year on Dec. 23, John Franco calls him to remind him of the anniversary of this play. 

So while this film goes into depth about the impact this play had football, on the city of Pittsburgh and those who watched it, what is the most entertaining is the how this single moment resonates with the players and coaches involved. 

Careers have literally been defined by this single play. This was a unique moment in sports, and this documentary captures that well.