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‘The most significant play in the history of the game’

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As part of a celebration of the play by the NFL and the franchise, the Steelers are hosting the Raiders Saturday night on NFL Network. The Steelers will don throwback jerseys and retire Harris’ No. 32 at halftime, as Pittsburgh (6-8) and Las Vegas (6-8) look to keep their playoff hopes alive in a postseason rematch from 50 years prior.

“I think it’s funny that, surprisingly, I probably met 75,000 people that were there that day,” Tomlin said, via Triblive.com. “It’s just one of those beautiful things in the history of our game, and it’s just humbling to be in close proximity to it, to work for this organization, to understand its impact on this organization.”

Tomlin, 50, was born roughly 10 months prior to the play, but not only does he realize its historical standing, but believes all his 20-something players do, as well.

“That’s the funny thing about this generation of guys,” Tomlin said. “You can give them an oral history. You can tell them a story, and you can be really colorful in your delivery, all the while they’re looking at their handheld confirming it.

“They’re aware. They’re aware of Franco. They’re aware of the ‘Immaculate Reception.’ They’re aware of the significance of it. I just think that they are aware of a lot of things that we think they aren’t because of their exposure to information and how readily available that information is.”

Plainly stated, Harris plucked a deflected Terry Bradshaw pass out of the Pennsylvania air and scored the game-winning touchdown in the 1972 AFC Divisional Round playoff game, leading the Steelers past the Raiders, 13-7.

Of course, there was nothing plain and simple about the play that 50 years later makes it impossible to say the word “immaculate” without automatically combining it with “reception.”

Bradshaw escaped a dastardly Raiders rush to heave a pass to John “Frenchy” Fuqua, who was obliterated by a hit from safety Jack Tatum. With Fuqua, Tatum and the ball all seemingly colliding in an instant, the ball was up for grabs and Harris ran onto the scene for the clutchest of catches in NFL lore.

He hauled in the ball without slowing his stride and kept going into the end zone, the Steelers following him into the AFC Championship Game, where they would fall to the undefeated Dolphins.

Controversy followed and remains to this day as many opine that the ball only touched Fuqua and not Tatum. Or they believe it hit the ground prior to Harris’ grab. Either instance would have made it an incompletion in the 1972 rule book.

But it stood, and stands as the play voted the greatest over the league’s first 100 years. It began a run of eight consecutive Steelers playoff appearances, four of them concluding with Super Bowl triumphs that forever changed the franchise and the league.

On Saturday night, the Raiders will be in Pittsburgh again to pay homage to an immaculate evening of long ago.

Amid all the pomp, circumstance and chronicle, Tomlin underscored that the best way to celebrate the anniversary is with another Steelers victory.

“It’s just an honor to be in proximity to it, to know the man involved, to call Pittsburgh home,” said Tomlin, who has history of his own on the line as he aims to keep alive hope for a 16th-straight non-losing season to start his career. “It’s awesome to be a part of and to witness, but at the same time, we understand that we’ve got to do business. We’ve got present-day business, and the best way we can honor him is by performing. So we’re going to work extremely hard to prepare ourselves leading up to it.”

Image & Story Credit: nfl.com

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