1) 1972 Divisional Playoff: Pittsburgh 13—Oakland 7
The Immaculate Reception. In their previous 40 years of existence, the Steelers had appeared in exactly one playoff game. They lost. But it looked like things had finally turned around in their second playoff game. Pittsburgh had totally shut down the Oakland offense and held a late 6-0 lead at home in a brutal defensive struggle. The Steelers' luck then (seemingly) ran out. Kenny Stabler, the not so fleet-of-foot Raiders QB, scored a go-ahead TD on a nice 30-yard scramble and run down the left sideline with just 76 seconds remaining. The Steeltown crowd were going home losers once again. The Steeler offense had one last chance to pull the game out but they just couldn’t move the ball. As Pittsburgh's season slipped away, owner Art Rooney had seen enough. He took the elevator downstairs from his box so he could be waiting there in the locker to room to console his team and congratulate them on their fine year. His quarterback, Terry Bradshaw, had just thrown 3 straight incompletions so it’s not like Rooney needed to see one more right? 22 seconds remained and the Steelers faced a 4th-and-10 at their own 40. They needed a miracle. Bradshaw took the snap, ducked away from a heavy rush, and scrambled to his right. Ignoring his wide-open running back Franco Harris, Bradshaw instead inexplicably heaved a desperate pass over the middle to RB John “Frenchy” Fuqua who was being covered like a blanket by Raiders safety Jack “They Call Me Assassin” Tatum. Assassin Boy went for the big hit instead of the football (of course) and he clocked Fuqua just as the ball arrived. The ball caromed away but just before it could hit the turf Harris, alertly trailing the play, somehow snatched it off his shoetops and ran 40 yards to paydirt with 5 seconds left on the clock. The crowd exploded. His teammates mobbed Franco in the end zone celebrating the incredible unbelievable winning touchdown. But was it a touchdown? No one knew; the officials made no immediate call. Under the rules of the time, consecutive touches by offensive players weren’t allowed so the ball had to have hit Tatum for the catch to be a legal play. So the question was did the ball hit Tatum or Fuqua? No TV replay rule then existed, but the head official apparently called the TV booth to find out exactly what happened. All the existing replays are unclear but after talking it over for awhile the officials finally signaled touchdown, perhaps influenced by the screaming crowd of crazed jubilant Steelers fans who might have torn the zebras to pieces had the refs taken that touchdown off the board. Oakland coach John Madden remains bitter to this day about the call. Franco’s catch (“I don’t even know where he came from!”) stands as arguably the greatest, most fantastic single play in NFL history and Raider fans have had the privilege of seeing it replayed endlessly for the last 35 years (and counting). Does anybody but a Raider fan ever get tired of seeing that play? I sure as hell know I don’t! Enjoy Raider Nation:
When I originally created my list of the 10 toughest Raider losses, I had Super Bowl XXXVII as number one. After thinking about it some more though, no way! Yeah, a Super Bowl loss is as disappointing as it gets but that game was over at halftime. The Raiders had plenty of time to adjust to the fact they were going home losers. But the Tuck Rule game and especially the Immaculate Reception provided them with that devastating “punch in the gut” moment: a sure win suddenly turned into a loss by a crazy play coupled with a controversial call. Stabler was this close to being the hero but who remembers his TD now? It’s been completely wiped out by Franco’s TD. And Raider fans never know when any football-related show will suddenly throw that highlight up there one more time. By the way, Franco Harris hasn’t got nearly enough credit for that catch (or his career for that matter). He saw the opportunity, he made an amazing catch and a great run to the end zone, fighting off a tackler at the ten and staying in bounds.
Postscript: A few years ago a physicist examined all the evidence and concluded the ball definitely hit Tatum before Franco caught it. Conservation of momentum people! So stop your whining already Raiders!
Previous Raiders Toughest Losses Entries:
Tenth Toughest Loss
Ninth Toughest Loss
Eighth Toughest Loss
Seventh Toughest Loss
Sixth Toughest Loss
Fifth Toughest Loss
Fourth Toughest Loss
Third Toughest Loss
Second Toughest Loss