Immaculate Reception series: Terry Bradshaw
Terry Bradshaw does not want to talk about it. He threw the football that started the Immaculate Reception and he's grown tired of the subject 40 years later.
Bradshaw won't be here for at the Immaculate Reception ceremony Saturday on the actual site of the play near Heinz Field, one day before the 40th anniversary of the play. Franco Harris called him twice and asked him to be there. Bradshaw has to work in the Fox NFL studio in Los Angeles next Sunday.
He also declined to talk to the Post-Gazette for this story, saying he has said enough about that play through the years. He did offer one comment through an intermediary:
"I never did see it because I was on the ground," said Bradshaw, who scrambled to his right and was knocked down just after he released the ball. "But I heard the roar. I knew something really good happened. That we probably scored. I was thinking to myself 'I must have hit him in stride,' that I made a great throw. I was feeling good about myself. But when I got to the sideline it was deflating for me when everyone told me what really happened, how the pass got knocked backwards."
This is the Steelers' 80th season, and the 40th since the Immaculate Reception, that one remarkable play many believe was one of the best in the history of the NFL. It neatly divided the team's fortunes into the woeful 40 years before, and the championship years after. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is taking a season-long look back at that play and its impact on the city and the team. Look for a story in each Sunday's Sports section that revisits that moment from the point of view of players from the Steelers and the Raiders, as well as fans and team officials, culminating in coverage on Dec. 23, the 40th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception.
Harris caught the football that deflected backward from the Raiders 35to the Raiders 42. He ran down the left sideline for what was a 60-yard touchdown reception that beat the Oakland Raiders, 13-7, for the Steelers' first playoff victory. He and Bradshaw are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Raiders' Jack Tatum and Steelers' Frenchy Fuqua, whose violent collision prompted the ball to shoot backward, are not.
"I've been playing football ever since the second grade and I haven't ever seen anything like this," Bradshaw told The New York Times that day.
Bradshaw has been quoted through the years on that play, including in a 25th anniversary story in the Post-Gazette.
"When you scramble, you take your eye off what's happening downfield," Bradshaw said. "When I looked up again to see what I could find, the only thing I could see was Frenchy. I was about to get hit. I just unloaded.''
That was quintessential Bradshaw. He took the snap from Jim Clack at the Steelers 40 -- NFL Films used another clip to set up that play, showing Ray Mansfield at center. Oakland defensive end Horace Jones flushed Bradshaw to the quarterback's right. He barely shook off Jones and fired a pass over the middle toward Fuqua before Bradshaw hit the turf.
"That was another special thing about Bradshaw," Harris told the Post-Gazette's Gene Collier last week. "He was very hard to bring down and he really fought on that play. We all knew he had an unbelievably strong arm. But the velocity on that ball, the velocity had to be quite strong and the speed of the ball had to be incredible for it to come back to me in a span of seconds."
Everyone knew Bradshaw had that kind of strength of body and arm. It's why the Steelers made him the No. 1 overall NFL draft choice in 1970. But there was little to suggest in his third pro season or in that playoff game that he would help author what NFL Films judged the No. 1 play in league history.
Bradshaw completed 47.7 percent of his passes in 1970 with 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, the first season he did not have more interceptions than touchdowns (his combined total in his first two seasons were 19 TDs, 46 interceptions).
In that game, he completed 10 of 24 passes for 115 yards, two touchdowns and one interception until things turned Immaculate.
First Published December 16, 2012 12:06 am