Year
1972

Harris makes Immaculate Reception

On December 23, 1972, in a controversial play that is known as the “Immaculate Reception,” rookie running back Franco Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers grabs a deflected pass from quarterback Terry Bradshaw to score a touchdown, winning the game for the Steelers 13-7 over the Oakland Raiders.

The historic play took place during the semifinal playoff game of the American Football Conference (AFC), in Pittsburgh. Ken Stabler of the Raiders scored a touchdown with 73 seconds left in the game, putting Oakland up 7-6. Things looked dark for the Steelers, a struggling franchise that had finished 31 of the previous 39 seasons with a losing record. Bradshaw’s pass, launched from the Steelers’ 40-yard-line, was intended for halfback Frenchy Fuqua. When the Raiders safety Jack Tatum collided with Fuqua at Oakland’s 35-yard-line, the ball bounced backwards in a huge arc for a total of seven yards, where Harris scooped it up before it hit the ground and ran 42 yards into the end zone.

Though one official, Adrian Burk, immediately ruled the play a touchdown, there were no other signals. Tatum swore he didn’t touch the ball and that it had bounced off Fuqua and ricocheted towards Harris; this would have made Harris’ play illegal, according to a rule at the time stating no two receivers can touch the ball consecutively on the same play. From a dugout on the sidelines, referee Fred Swearingen got on the phone with Art McNally, the NFL’s supervisor of officials. McNally had access to the instant replay on television from his seat in the press box, and confirmed Swearingen’s ruling that Tatum had touched the football, making Harris’ play a touchdown. In his post-game comments, Raiders coach John Madden indicated that he believed Tatum had made contact with the ball.

The following week, also in Pittsburgh, the Steelers lost the AFC championship game to the undefeated Miami Dolphins, who went on to win Super Bowl VII. The Immaculate Reception marked the end of Pittsburgh’s years of futility, however, as the Steelers became a dominant force in the NFL over the next decade, winning four Super Bowls by 1980.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

“Balloon Boy” parents sentenced in Colorado

On this day in 2009, Richard Heene, who carried out a hoax in which he told authorities his 6-year-old son Falcon had floated off in a runaway, saucer-shaped helium balloon, is sentenced to 90 days in jail in Fort Collins, Colorado. Heene’s wife Mayumi received 20 days of jail ...read more

Voyager completes global flight

After nine days and four minutes in the sky, the experimental aircraft Voyager lands at Edwards Air Force Base in California, completing the first nonstop flight around the globe on one load of fuel. Piloted by Americans Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, Voyager was made mostly of ...read more

Van Gogh chops off ear

On this day in 1888, Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, suffering from severe depression, cuts off the lower part of his left ear with a razor while staying in Arles, France.He later documented the event in a painting titled Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear. Today, Van Gogh is ...read more

Operation Linebacker II continues

The East German Embassy and the Hungarian commercial mission in Hanoi are hit in the eighth day of Operation Linebacker II. Although there were reports that a prisoner of war camp holding American soldiers was hit, the rumor was untrue.President Nixon initiated the full-scale ...read more

Truman considers amnesty for draft dodgers

On this day in 1946, President Harry S. Truman appoints an amnesty board to review cases of conscientious objectors (CO’s) who were imprisoned after refusing to serve during World War II.Truman’s predecessor, Franklin Roosevelt, had pardoned select World War I “draft dodgers” in ...read more

Prince Wurttemberg explores the West

Embarking on the second of three wide-ranging exploratory journeys in the West, Prince Paul Wilhelm of Wurttemberg leaves St. Louis and heads up the Missouri River.Born near Stuttgart in southwestern Germany in 1797, Prince Paul (later the Duke) of Wurttemberg was the son of King ...read more

Earthquake rocks Managua

On this day in 1972, a 6.2-magnitude earthquake in Managua, Nicaragua, kills more than 10,000 people and leaves 250,000 homeless.The quake hit in the middle of the night and immediately destroyed nearly 75 percent of Managua. All electricity, gas, water, sewage and telephone ...read more

Bernhard Goetz goes on the lam

Bernhard Goetz, who shot four young black men on a subway car the previous day, flees New York City and heads for New Hampshire after becoming the central figure in a media firestorm.On the afternoon of December 22, Troy Canty, Barry Allen, Darrell Cabey, and James Ramseur ...read more

Crew of USS Pueblo released by North Korea

The crew and captain of the U.S. intelligence gathering ship Pueblo are released after 11 months imprisonment by the government of North Korea. The ship, and its 83-man crew, was seized by North Korean warships on January 23 and charged with intruding into North Korean ...read more

Davis declares Butler a felon

On this day in 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis declares Union General Benjamin Butler a felon and insists that he beexecuted if captured. Butler had earned few friends in New Orleans; indeed, his treatment of the city’s residents outraged most Southerners.The Union ...read more