"Immaculate Reception" revisited Sunday

On Sunday night (ESPN, 8:30 PM ET), one of the all-time great NFL rivalries will be renewed in the 30th anniversary year of perhaps its most memorable game, the "Immaculate Reception."

It's the Oakland Raiders at the Pittsburgh Steelers.  In the 1970s, the mention of these two teams meant one thing – playoff football.

In the space of an amazing five-year span from 1972-76, the teams met annually in either an AFC divisional or championship game.  The final three were for the conference championship, with the first two being taken by the Steelers and the last by the Raiders.  All three times, the winner went on to capture the Super Bowl.

But it is the 1972 matchup of the teams in an AFC Divisional Playoff game in Pittsburgh that people remember best.  The names alone are unforgettable – NOLL…MADDEN…BRADSHAW…STABLER…HARRIS…FUQUA…TATUM

With 22 seconds left in the game, the Steelers were down 7-6 on their own 40-yard line with a fourth-and-10.  After scrambling in the pocket, Steelers quarterback TERRY BRADSHAW rifled a pass to fullback FRENCHY FUQUA  

The ball, Fuqua and Raiders safety JACK TATUM all collided.  The ball rebounded like a rubber ball off a house, and headed straight for Pittsburgh running back FRANCO HARRIS, who had leaked out of the backfield and tried to get open when he saw his scrambling QB looking for a receiver.

"I saw Frenchy and Tatum go up," said Harris.  "I saw the ball go up in the air and I said, ‘Oh no!' But then I saw the ball coming toward me and I figured we're not out of this yet."

The ball caromed nearly eight yards backwards and was caught in full stride by Harris a hair's length from the turf.  Sixty yards later, he scored, and one of the most memorable plays ever – forevermore called the "Immaculate Reception" – and NFL games ever became etched in history.

Fast forward to this Sunday night and you've still got playoff teams battling.  The Raiders (Divisional) and Steelers (Championship) lost to the Patriots in the 2001 playoffs. 

For the teams' defenses, it's "pick your poison" night.  Gang up on the RBs (Pittsburgh's JEROME BETTIS and Oakland's CHARLIE GARNER) and the WRs (Raiders' JERRY RICE and TIM BROWN; Steelers' PLAXICO BURRESS and HINES WARD) will run you wild.  And so will the QBs – KORDELL STEWART of the Steelers and RICH GANNON of the Raiders.

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