Former Steelers, Oakland player share 'Immaculate Reception Memories'

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Ex-Steelers tackle Jon Kolb claimed he was the guy who set up the Immaculate Reception, the miracle play that turned around his team's -- and Pittsburgh's -- sports fortunes.

Kolb was one of a half-dozen ex-Steelers and one former Oakland Raider who recalled their "Immaculate Reception Memories" at the Sen. John Heinz History Center today.

In his tongue-in-cheek version of what happened at Three Rivers Stadium on Dec. 23, 1972, Kolb said that then-Steelers Coach Chuck Noll had developed a "ricochet" pass play that had never worked in practice.

Kolb, however, saw his chance to try it, when the Steelers were trailing the Raiders 7-6 with just seconds left in the game. He let Raiders linemen pressure Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw into making what looked like a pass to running back John "Frenchy" Fuqua but was designed to bounce backward off defender Jack Tatum.

Steelers running back Franco Harris then scooped up the ball and ran for a touchdown.

Speaking in a more serious vein, former Steelers tackle Joe Greene credited Harris and his improbable play with changing the team's attitude. The Steelers had drafted Harris, a star at Penn State, in 1972.

"We didn't win anything before Franco," Greene said, recalling his 1969 first season with the Steelers. The team that year went 1-13. From 1972 to 1979, however, the Steelers made the playoffs every year and won four Super Bowls.

Ex-linebacker Andy Russell reminded the almost 600 people who attended the "Memories" event at the History Center that Noll was both blunt and ruthless is assembling championship teams.

In Noll's first speech to the team after he became coach in 1969, he explained to his players why they were losing. "The reason you're losing is because you are not very good, and I'll have to get rid of most of you," is the way Russell remembered it.

Art Rooney Jr., a longtime Steelers scout and son of the team's founder, Art "The Chief" Rooney Sr., said he and Noll never had arguments but many discussions.

Rooney said Noll sometimes seemed scornful of him, calling him "Artie" and believing he had gotten his job through his father.

"I didn't get my job because of my dad," Rooney said, pausing just long enough. "I got my job because of my mother." The audience roared.

Heinz History Center is home to a temporary exhibit called "Gridiron Glory," a collection of items borrowed mostly from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Andy Masich, president of the History Center, reminded visitors they could go see the "Immaculate Reception" football that Harris carried over the goal line 40 years ago.

The Wilson football belongs to Jim Baker, 66, who retrieved it from the end zone after Steelers kicker Roy Gerela made the extra point. He loaned it to the museum for the "Gridiron Glory" display, which continues through Jan. 6.

The Immaculate Reception celebration also includes the scheduled unveiling of a North Shore monument honoring the iconic play. The memorial, located between Heinz Field and Stage AE, has been placed on the spot in now-demolished Three Rivers Stadium where Harris caught Bradshaw's deflected pass.

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Len Barcousky: or 412-263-1159. First Published December 22, 2012 9:45 PM


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