The fans have spoken, and the Immaculate Reception is the NFL 100 Greatest Moment. The selection process began in July 2019 with fans identifying their top moment in their favorite club’s history. It culminated in a month-long process to narrow the field from 32 to the NFL100 Greatest Moment, which was reenacted Sunday with Hall of Famers Franco Harris and Terry Bradshaw during the Super Bowl LIV Pregame Show on FOX.
The play instantly became famous in Steelers and NFL lore when Harris, then a rookie fullback, snagged a pass after the ball ricocheted off running back Frenchy Fuqua and sprinted into the end zone past a shocked Oakland Raiders defense for the game-winning score in the 1972 AFC Divisional Round.
NFL Network’s Judy Battista broke down the improbable play for a December piece on NFL.com:
“I got flushed out to the right, cut off from getting to the outside,” Bradshaw said. “I looked downfield, saw a black jersey and just fired it.”
[Frenchy] Fuqua came out of the backfield, thinking he was going to be a star.
“Everything was working perfect,” Fuqua said. “I got open, as I took my eyes from the center to the ball, I caught a quick glance of Tatum coming at me. I said, ‘Oh no, I need Bradshaw to throw this to my inside shoulder.’ He threw the ball to a point. I’m running full speed. I see Jack Tatum coming full speed.”
What happened next is anybody’s guess.
“While he was scrambling, I said to myself, ‘Be an outlet pass just in case,’ ” Harris said. “He threw the ball downfield and automatically in my head came Joe Paterno’s voice of Go to the ball. That’s what he always told us in college, but in college I never listened.”
Fuqua: “I’m thinking one thing is for sure, if I don’t catch it, nobody will catch it. If he hits me early, it’s pass interference and we get another shot. I could hear him breathing. I’m glad I didn’t slow down because he would have surely gotten the interception.”
The ball arrived at the Raiders‘ 35-yard line at the same moment as Tatum and Fuqua, and it is there that the legend takes off. Fuqua leaped, and reached for the ball, but Tatum, who had come running from at least 10 yards away, crushed him with his right shoulder, sending Fuqua backwards at least 3 yards. He looked up and briefly caught a glimpse of Tatum standing over him, smiling. The ball ricocheted backward and the central mystery of the play — of NFL history, really — is whether the ball hit Tatum or Fuqua to send it flying 7 yards. If it hit Fuqua, the play, by the rules of the day, should have been over. If it hit Tatum, the play was live. One more question: Did the ball graze the frozen field before Harris, hunched over, grasped it with his fingertips and took off down the left sideline?
“I remember nothing,” Harris said. “My mind is completely blank. The only thing I remember is stiff-arming Jimmy Warren right at the end before going into the end zone. In my mind, I’m thinking, get into the end zone. Then it was just bedlam.”
On the ground, Bradshaw heard the roar of the crowd and thought to himself, “You are a hero to millions. You put that sucker right there on the money. I’m going to be on the cover of a Wheaties box. I might make 15 or 20 grand this offseason.”