Couple who coined name for Immaculate Reception never sought credit
In the postgame cheer of a long-ago tavern called the Interlude, a young couple struck upon a name for this baby. Look at what became of the Immaculate Reception.
Their name remains iconically affixed to the Steelers Nation's touchstone and America's most memorable professional sports moment, Terry Bradshaw to Jack Tatum/Frenchy Fuqua to Franco Harris to Myron Cope to fame and 40 years of relatively good fortune for a region, a franchise, a fandom.
And what of the proud parents, Sharon Levosky and Michael Ord?
"I still haven't met Franco yet," said Levosky, who has his autograph, the memory of Dec. 23, 1972, and little else except an unheralded assist on the play's catchy name.
"You want to talk about ... regret?" she asked. "I met Myron a number of times after that and never told him who I was. I was shy. Never told him."
"It's 40 years, and it's really been a ride," said Ord, retired and recuperating outside Raleigh, N.C., after two massive strokes last year. "I'm glad it worked out the way it did. I'm glad I'm a footnote in history."
His story and her story were woven into the fabric of the Steelers, Pittsburgh and American sports via the Leather Shop, a Shadyside boutique that Ord owned.
Levosky came to work for him. Soon enough, they were an item. Dates included Steelers games. Not exactly candlelight and private moments, but it was their thing.
His family had been season ticket holders from Forbes Field to Pitt Stadium to the dawn of the new Steelers age.
Ord, through a politician friend, ordered 10 tickets at the 50-yard line when Three Rivers Stadium opened its turnstiles in 1970. Just one hang-up: The seats were in the highest level, Section 653.
Levosky, by that time working for the forerunner of the national advertising company Marc USA, tried to sit elsewhere whenever extra seats became available.
"One game I remember, we were in the third row," Levosky said. "There, we were thinking, 'This will be great.' All we saw were the butts of the Cincinnati Bengals. Sometimes, we were here a seat, there a seat -- moving around. 'Cause you weren't allowed to sit on the steps. Even way up high. And we were waaay up high."
That 1972 season was heavenly.
The rookie Harris ran wild, the Steel Curtain defense suffocated foes, Gerela's Gorillas begat Franco's Italian Army and a Nation was forged from Steelers and beer.
Then came the first true playoff game since 1947, and only the second ever for Art Rooney Sr.'s shoestring franchise -- as Levosky put it, "after 40 years of nothing, nothing, nothing."
"When it came to that playoff game with Oakland, there was electricity in the air," Ord said. "It was like something was palpable. You knew history was going to be made somehow."
Neither his girlfriend nor his father, Barney, witnessed history. They both held their heads in their hands on the famed play.
Then they heard the crowd roar.
They looked up.
They saw: Harris, left sideline, touchdown.
"Oh, it was pandemonium," Levosky said. "People jumping up and down. People throwing things. Parts of clothing. Not bad parts -- hats and gloves. I remember jumping. But we were on the sixth level, we had to be careful [not to fall off.]"
To continue the celebration, the young couple ventured to the popular haunts of Court Place off Ross Street, where the Interlude and the Beau Brummel attracted crowds.
They thought about the Rev. Jack Myers, the former World War II chaplain who walked from Highland Park to games and sat in the row in front of them on Steelers Sunday afternoons. They thought about the Catholic dogma of that pre-Christmas time.
Ord eventually climbed upon an Interlude table, rapped a glass with a spoon to quiet the second-floor room and made a pronouncement: From this day forward, Dec. 23 will forever be known as The Feast of the Immaculate Reception.
"People just screamed. They threw drinks up in the air," Ord remembered. "It was a moment you'd want to freeze in time. They used to call it a 'Polaroid moment.' "
Sometime shortly before 11 that night, at Levosky's Highland Park home, Ord -- partly because he "had no voice left" -- suggested she dial up the one media mind who would share in the wit and joy of their punny appellation.
"I called [WTAE-TV] and asked for Myron, and they put me right through," Levosky said.
After all, she identified herself as Sharon Levosky of Marc advertising, which was the truth.
"I told him what we came up with. He laughed and said, 'I don't know if I could say that on the air.' I said, 'Sure you can.'
"We went into the living room. My dad turned the TV on. Myron's laughing as he came on the air. He says, 'I just got off the phone with a good Christian woman. ...' And we never discussed that! He didn't have my name."
But he had the play's name.
In his 2002 autobiography, "Double Yoi," Cope wrote: "When my phone rang in the newsroom, I listened to Sharon's suggestion and said, 'That's fantastic. Let me give it some thought.' The Immaculate Reception? Tasteless? I pondered the matter for 15 seconds and cried out, 'Whoopee!' Having conferred upon Franco's touchdown its name for 11 o'clock viewers to embrace, I accept neither credit nor, should you hold the moniker to be impious, blame."
"For god's sakes, he was a midget," Ord began. "He had the worst voice in the world. And he was insane. But he made it a blast. It's a big hole in the heart of that town [since Cope died in 2008]. He was a mensch in every sense of the word," a person of integrity, honor and character.
The couple eventually parted ways. Ord got married, lost his wife to cancer and, after working in the automotive and publication businesses, among others, retired six years ago to North Carolina. Levosky stayed close to home and immediate family, moving from the advertising business to her current role as a fleet administrator with Giant Eagle. They never received much attention for their role.
"A lot of people ask me why I didn't copyright the name," Ord said. "The object never was to make money off it or notoriety. I had nothing to do with it other than name it."
Yet it was nice to sit back and watch Pittsburgh grow with it.
That moment, "it actually changed the demeanor of the city," Ord continued. "It was like it was a second renaissance. I don't know if the play caused it, but it had to have some relevance. It was a much better city to live in after that day."
In the early '90s, Levosky's brother-in-law ran into Harris at a medical products conference in St. Louis. Vic Robertson told the conference's motivational speaker about Levosky and the name and came home with something for her -- the back of Robertson's business card now carried Harris' autograph and an inscription, "Thanks for sharing the miracle." It's framed and hanging in Levosky's home.
Ord signed some 500 autographs at a party for Steelers fans and patrons not long ago in North Carolina, people wanting a trifle from the father.
He was invited to the Steelers' 25th anniversary bash at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in 1997 and performed what he termed a "schtick" with Cope, although he didn't linger there long because his wife, Patty, was dying of cancer. And then he faded back into a historical footnote.
Levosky sighs when friends -- at Steelers games or anywhere -- loudly inform strangers that she was the mother of the Immaculate Reception. "Yeah," people respond dubiously. "Sure."
She has been invited to the Heinz History Center's planned 40th anniversary bash and has been interviewed at length for an upcoming NFL Films anniversary special. She has been in regular contact with Ord ever since this then-Post-Gazette reporter reunited them years ago following a generation's estrangement.
Ord was unaware that his long-ago employee, girlfriend and fellow "parent" never got the opportunity to introduce herself to Cope face-to-face as the co-namer.
"I didn't know that," Ord said. "I wish she had. He would've enjoyed talking to her. I wish he'd had that chance."
First Published November 11, 2012 12:00 am