This Sunday will be the 40th anniversary of either the greatest miracle ever, or the biggest crime against humanity.
It all depends on where you live.
The NFL Network's decision to honor the Immaculate Reception in A Football Life was a stroke of genius. Any show can honor a player who changed the game forever. This show honored a play that changed two franchises for some time.
It finally made the Pittsburgh Steelers a winner, and started their road to four Super Bowls in the 1970's and 1980s
It also made the Oakland Raiders very angry...to this day. Forget the fact they won several Super Bowls since that notorious play. They still say they were robbed.
The special shows that famous play, where Terry Bradshaw tosses a Hail Mary pass that hits either/or Jack Tatum and Frenchy Fuqua before it's caught by Franco Harris and carried in for a touchdown and a 13-7 win. I was 13 in San Jose, watching that game, and I couldn't believe it either. It spoiled what looked like a legendary comeback by Ken Stabler. Thanks, Terry.
We hear from Bradshaw, Fuqua and Harris, and see how it changed their lives. There's even a statue of Harris catching the ball at Pittsburgh's airport and a museum that shows the play several times a day. To this day, fans ask him if he really caught that ball. Coach John Madden is shown still upset over that play many years later. He even declined to be part of this episode.
The Raiders have their case, like maybe the NFL hates them. The episode lists all the conpsiracy theories, from Harris not really catching the ball to referees afraid they'd be attacked by Steelers fans if they reversed themselves. They added a new theory: the Steelers got away with a clipping penalty. Raymond Chester even claims Fuqua admitted the ball hit him first, which would have nullified the catch back then (although it's a legal play under current rules).
The play is even discussed by a college professor and a former director...of the CIA!
It's also interesting how the play has kicked off several side industries, even though it took a while for the famous nickname to catch on. The man who currently owns the ball from that game has it safely locked in a big vault, and it's taken to events under armed guard. Not even the ball Dwight Clark caught back in 1982 has such attention--or the play itself for that matter. He doesn't have a statue, even though that catch made as much impact on the 49ers as Harris' catch did for the Steelers.
The reason is simple. We know Clark made that catch. Everyone does. There are still some people, meanwhile, who still say the Immaculate Reception is more fraud than miracle, and nothing short of a TARDIS will change that. That's why A Football Life devoted an episode to that play. Maybe next season, we'll look at the Music City Miracle (still disputed by Buffalo Bills fans), or the "Tuck Rule Game" that also launched a New England dynasty at the expense of...yes, Oakland.
You can see the play itself, and a lot more, at the NFL Network site.