This Day In History: December 23

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On December 23, 1972, the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Oakland Raiders, 13-7, on rookie running back Franco Harris' "Immaculate Reception" touchdown in the waning seconds of a playoff game—one of the greatest plays in NFL history. 

Between 1933 and 1972, the Steelers were lovable losers, playing in only one postseason game—a 21-0 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1947 Eastern Division playoffs. In 1972, the Steelers put together a rare winner, finishing the regular season with an 11-3 won-loss record and winning the AFC Central division to set up the playoff showdown with the Raiders in Pittsburgh.

After a scoreless first half, the Steelers built a 6-0 lead on field goals by Roy Gerela. But with less than two minutes left, Oakland quarterback Ken Stabler scored on a 30-yard scramble. The extra point gave Oakland a 7-6 lead. Pittsburgh's season appeared over. 

On 4th-and-10 from his 40-yard line with 22 seconds left and no timeouts, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, under pressure, threw a pass toward Frenchy Fuqua at Oakland's 35-yard line. Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum crashed into Fuqua, apparently hitting the football, which ricocheted toward Harris, who caught it inches off the turf and ran down the sideline for a 60-yard touchdown.

The miraculous score touched off a wild celebration by Steelers fans. After a review, officials kept the original touchdown call. The play remains controversial—if the ball had hit Fuqua last, the touchdown would have been declared an incomplete pass according to NFL rules at the time. 

Pittsburgh radio play-by-play broadcaster Jack Fleming's call of the play became famous: "Bradshaw's running out of the pocket, looking for somebody to throw to, fires downfield, and there's a collision! And it's caught out of the air! The ball is pulled in by Franco Harris! Harris is going for a touchdown for Pittsburgh!″

The following week, the Steelers lost to the undefeated Miami Dolphins in the American Football Conference championship game in Pittsburgh. But the Steelers—losers for most of their existence—became a powerhouse in the 1970s, winning four Super Bowls.