Monday, June 27, 2022

Steelers to bring back legends for Christmas Eve game vs. Raiders: Immaculate Reception’s 50th anniversary

In many ways, the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ franchise as we know it was born on Dec. 23, 1972. Facing a fourth-and-10 and trailing the Raiders late in the divisional round of the playoffs, Terry Bradshaw evaded traffic before firing a pass toward Frenchy Fuqua. The pass deflected off of Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum before finding the outstretched arms of Franco Harris, who ran the remaining 40-plus yards to the end zone to seal the Steelers’ first playoff win. 

The Steelers plan to hold celebrations on the 50th anniversary of the play that was voted as the greatest in the NFL‘s first 100 seasons. Steelers president Art Rooney II said the team plans to have several legends from the 1972 team on hand for the festivities as well as the team’s Christmas Eve game against the Raiders. 

“The game we asked for and we were hoping for was the game on Dec. 24,” Rooney said following the unveiling of the schedule release, via the team’s website. “We weren’t sure if they were going to give us the Raiders or not, but they slid the Raiders into that slot, so we’re excited about that and excited to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception.”

The weekend will be a reunion of sorts for members of the 1970s Steelers that contributed to the franchise’s first four Super Bowl wins. Players who may be on hand for the festivities include Harris, fellow Hall of Famers Joe Greene, Mel Blount, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, Donnie Shell, Jack Ham, and fellow Hall of Honor enshrines Andy Russell, Mike Wagner, Jon Kolb, and Larry Brown, among others. 

The success of the ’72 Steelers created a buzz in Pittsburgh that continues to permeate. While Pittsburgh had been a baseball city, the Steelers’ run to the AFC Championship Game permanently changed the Pittsburgh sports landscape. It also created a new fan favorite in Harris, who months earlier didn’t even think he was going to be drafted. Harris’ popularity included the enlistment of Frank Sinatra into his “Italian Army”. 

“My rookie year was an incredible year,” Harris told CBS Sports in 2021. “That year, (Steelers fans) went crazy. Franco’s Italian Army popped up. And then we had all these fan clubs pop up. That generated so much enthusiasm and so much of a following. And it’s still there today with Steelers Nation. That was a pretty incredible rookie year. I don’t know if anybody ever had as much fun in their rookie year as I did. Going from the worst of all time to this incredible season, to an incredible base of fans to win our first playoff game the way that we won it and to go from there. It was a dream rookie season.” 

While he is proud of the four Super Bowls he and his teammates won, Harris is equally proud of the fact that, during his first 12 seasons in Pittsburgh, the team appeared in six AFC title games. Both of those achievements, however, pale in comparison to what Harris treasures most. 

“They had a couple of down years here and there, but the Steelers overall have kept their level of play at that great level,” Harris said. “They went on to win a couple more Super Bowls and be the first one to win six. The history continues. The legacy continues. That’s what I’m most proud of is that they’ve kept that winning spirit and that winning attitude there.” 

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