Some are calling it “revisionist history.” Others are calling it “way past due.” Regardless, the NFL announced today that it is conducting an official review of the play known as “The Immaculate Reception.”
NFL films calls The Immaculate Reception “The Greatest Miracle Play of All Time.” The legend was born like this:
On December 23, 1972, the Oakland Raiders were visiting the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Divisional Round of the playoffs at Three Rivers Stadium. The Raiders scored with 1:17 remaining to take a 7-6 lead. Facing a fourth-and-ten from their own 40-yard line with 22 seconds left, Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw a pass to Frenchy Fuqua. The ball entered traffic, bounced off something, and, as it fell toward the ground, was grabbed by Steelers' running back Franco Harris, who ran for a game-winning touchdown. The play has been a source of unresolved controversy ever since. Many people maintained that the ball touched only Fuqua or the ground before Harris caught it, either of which would have resulted in an incomplete pass by the rules at the time.
With no recourse and no replay, the game was over and the city celebrated its first playoff victory in many years. Later that evening, a Pittsburgh couple at a dinner party came up with the moniker “The Immaculate Reception." They called Pittsburgh media personality Myron Cope, who repeated it on the air, and the rest is history. Until now.
“For too long, the NFL has lived under the dark and malevolent shadow of this shameful uncertainty,” said Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday. “In 1972, we did not have as many cameras on the field, nor did we have access to the remarkable technologies we have today. Who knows how many calls were missed, and what irreparable damage has been done to the game as a result of these deficiencies.
“This is no longer acceptable. With the latest DNA, robotic, nano and metabolic research at our disposal, we can now determine what actually happened during every play in every moment of every game. If necessary, we will change each error one by one until they are all precisely accurate. We are starting with one of the most important of all.
“Getting The Immaculate Reception right--once and for all--is the next logical step in the evolution of our league.”
The review will be conducted by the NFL’s Senior Vice President of Officiating, Alberto Riveron. Riveron is the person responsible for a number of recent controversies. He was the man “Back in New York” who overturned Jesse James’ potential game-winning catch in the closing seconds of the Steelers/Patriots game, as well as two other plays this year involving the club from New England. Though Riveron is the second cousin of Jack Tatum’s wife’s nephew’s college roommate’s sister, who once picked up dry cleaning for Al Davis and has a poster of Kenny Stabler in her bedroom, he insists he holds no preexisting loyalties.
“We will examine all the evidence,” Riveron said. “We will start with the human element; eye-witness accounts, preserved 8 mm film, polaroid pictures, polygraph testing, artist sketches, all of that. However, our great advantage now is that we can use satellite and cell tower triangulation, tracking technology borrowed from missile defense systems, and the nuances of Molecular String Theory to track the parabolic path of the ball and the precise location of each player on the field at all times for the past 45 years.
"We will review the play, we will get it right, and we will do so in a timely fashion.
"We should know with absolute certainty by 2023," Riveron says.
Though the Steelers lost the AFC championship to Miami the following week, The Immaculate Reception is credited with changing the entire course of the franchise. By the end of the 70's, the team had won four Super Bowls and cemented their place as one of the greatest teams ever assembled. Had the pass been ruled incomplete, experts say, the team might not have achieved its heights of success and perhaps been moved to Cleveland. The entire history of the NFL, the financial future of the city of Pittsburgh, and the euphoric memories of millions of passionate Steeler fans would have suffered a devastating blow.
When asked about how revising history may adversely affect the league, including a theory that a karmic Butterfly Effect might result in James Harrison being NFL commissioner instead of him, Goodell replied, “Karma be damned. I am only interested in scientific certainties. If I don't survive the ground, so be it.”
Legendary coaches John Madden of the Raiders and Chuck Noll of the Steelers could not be reached for comment because they are dead. However, for years, Madden insisted Bradshaw's pass hit the ground and should have been ruled incomplete. As for Harris--whose statue of the play greets travelers as they arrive at Pittsburgh International Airport--he denies rumors that he used his beard to wipe Fuqua’s fingerprint and a tell-tale blade of grass from the ball afterwards. “I was just kissing it because I was happy,” he says.
The NFL is also investigating Joe Namath’s Super Bowl III Guarantee, Tom Brady’s fumble in the “Tuck Game,” and the Immaculate Conception of Jesus himself.