RIP Franco

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(Season’s) Greetings From The Booth!

Happy Holidays, everyone! It’s nice to be back in the Booth after a week of Christmas vacation, especially when that week included a power outage and a tree branch causing about $4000 to my vehicle. So much for a nice, relaxing vaycay!

I was sad to hear of the passing of the great Pittsburgh Steeler running back, Franco Harris, who died this week at age 72. His death comes just 2 days shy of the 50th anniversary of arguably the most controversial play in NFL history (and maybe the greatest). The play, known as The Immaculate Reception, is certainly the most dissected play in league history, as it has been examined frame-by-frame more often than the  Zapruder film.

That play, which involved Franco, came at the end of an AFC playoff game between the Steelers and the Oakland Raiders on December 23, 1972. The Raiders had taken a 7-6 lead on a 30-yard run by quarterback Kenny Stabler, a lead that looked safe. With just 40 seconds left and no time-outs, Pittsburgh QB Terry Bradshaw threw a desperation pass intended for John Fuqua at the Oakland 35. The ball, Fuqua, and the Raiders’ Jack Tatum all arrived at once, and in the ensuing collision, the ball took a crazy carom backwards, where it was scooped out of the air by Harris, who streaked into the end zone for the improbable TD.

In the aftermath of the play, amidst the bedlam of Three Rivers Stadium, the officials conferred to determine whether the catch was legal. In 1972, the rule was that the ball couldn’t be touched by 2 offensive players consecutively without a defensive player touching the ball in-between. After the long confab, the catch was rule legal and the touchdown stood.  The Immaculate Reception, as it has come to be known, is considered to be the catalyst for the Steeler’s dynasty, which included four Super Bowl wins in the 1970s.

I remember watching that play as it happened in my Grandma Minnie’s living room, and as I look back on the play, I’m not sure we’ll ever witness anything like it ever again. With replay, and high-definition technology, any play can be broken down to the most minute detail, all but eliminating controversy. Not to mention, the aforementioned “no touch” rule was rescinded years ago. In a way, that’s too bad. Human error in sports with regard to officiating has added to the lore of the game. It’s “part of the game,” as the saying goes. We’re still talking about The Immaculate Reception 50 years later, and had replay been allowed in 1972, maybe we wouldn’t be.

In closing, Franco Harris did so much more on and off the field beyond his most famous reception. While active, he came close to breaking Jim Brown’s then-NFL rushing record, eventually falling less than 200 yards shy of the mark. Of course, he was an integral part of the aforementioned Super Bowl titles in the 70s. And, his charity work in the Steel City is well documented.  One play does not a Hall-Of-Famer make. This weekend, his number 32 will be retired, only the third Steeler to have that distinction. But he will always be remembered for a play that we’re still talking about 50 years later.

Until the next visit from The Booth, Rest In Peace Franco Harris!