The man who threw the pass that became the Immaculate Reception lost his unintended receiver Wednesday.
The passing of Franco Harris stunned the football world in Pittsburgh and well beyond. His longtime teammate, Terry Bradshaw, was among the many left to process the news.
“He was seriously just a good guy,” Bradshaw said Wednesday during an appearance on Good Morning Football. “He never was overtaken. His success never changed him. That’s one of the beauties about him.
“He called me Brad. Most folks called me TB. He called me Brad.”
Bradshaw threw the pass that ended up being a fortunate accident and cemented Harris’ place in NFL lore. The late Steelers radio analyst Myron Cope dubbed it the Immaculate Reception, an attempt intended for Pittsburgh’s John Fuqua that caromed off a defender and hung in the air just long enough for Harris to snag it inches from the Three Rivers Stadium turf and take it the distance for a game-winning touchdown in the Steelers’ 1972 playoff clash with the Raiders.
The play earned Pittsburgh its first postseason victory in franchise history, launching a run of dominance that vaulted the club into the upper echelon of NFL teams in the decades that followed.
“The minute I throw the ball, Franco takes off,” Bradshaw recalled. “And I ask him, ‘What made you run downfield.’ And he said at Penn State, Joe Paterno told the running backs that when the quarterback releases the ball, to run to the play. Run to the ball. And had he not been taught that by Paterno, he would not have released and gone downfield. And that’s exactly what he did, and that’s why he caught that pass.
“It’s just a good story. We add a little to it as time goes on because it’s better. I had so much fun messing with him about his blocking and catching the ball. We hardly ever threw the ball to him. It’s just a good story. I’m 74, and I enjoy these stories more than ever.”
Pittsburgh planned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the legendary play this weekend when the Steelers host the Raiders on Saturday. The franchise is also retiring Harris’ No. 32, a rare honor for a club that has only retired two numbers in its history prior to this weekend.
The celebration will go on and will also serve another purpose: honoring the life of one of its greatest players.
“I find it a little bit prophetic in a sense that this was to be the greatest moment probably in Franco’s retirement life,” Bradshaw said. “Winning Super Bowls as a team, all of us say that everything we are, everything we have, we got from winning Super Bowls as a team. … Now, he’s getting his jersey retired, which is unheard of with Pittsburgh. There’s only three jerseys retired, I believe, in Pittsburgh. … They were gonna celebrate the 50 years of the Immaculate Reception. And Franco and I had just finished shooting a commercial on that play right there.”
Image & Story Credit: nfl.com