The Immaculate Reception: A Football Life Airs Tonight on NFL Network

One of the more iconic and controversial plays in the National Football League will be chronicled by the NFL Films team in the latest edition of “A Football Life.” Tonight, A Football Life delves into what happened on the last play of the AFC Divisional Playoff game between the Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

With 22 seconds left to go in the game with the Raiders leaving 7-6, Terry Bradshaw of the Steelers threw a pass intended for running back Frenchy Fuqua, but there was a collision and the ball flew in the air and as the ball hit the Three Rivers Stadium turf, Franco Harris caught it and ran towards the end zone for what was ruled a touchdown. The Steelers were declared the winner at 13-7.

To this day, many surviving Raiders including coach John Madden contend the play was illegal. Of course, the Steelers say it was all good and the Raiders are bitter.

The documentary will include interviews with Harris, Fuqua, Bradshaw, several Raiders, and a 1986 talk about the game with Madden. The coach refused to do a new interview on the Immaculate Reception, he’s still angry about it.

Here’s the press release.


Emmy-Nominated Series Continues Wednesday, December 19at 8:00 PM ET
“The Immaculate Reception became the
Zapruder film of sports.” – Stephen J. Dubner

Fourth quarter, 22 seconds remaining, fourth and 10 from their own 40 yard line, trailing by one to the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw took the snap. What transpired over the next 17 seconds has been described various ways – a myth, miracle, conspiracy, crime, and a detective story.

NFL Network’s Emmy nominated series A Football Life continues Wednesday, December 19 at 8:00 PM ET with the story of The Immaculate Reception.  On December 23, 1972at 3:29 PM ET, Franco Harris crossed the goal line with what appeared to be 60-yard touchdown reception to give the Steelers a 12-7 lead. However, for the next 15 minutes, Referee Fred Swearingen and his five man crew debated over a play which history says no one saw.

The iconic play had one certainty:  Bradshaw had thrown a downfield pass intended for running back John “Frenchy” Fuqua. All aspects of what took place after Bradshaw released the ball and until Harris crossed the goal line will never be agreed upon. Was NFL Rule 7, Section 5, Article 2, Item 1 violated? Did Harris legally catch the ball? Adding to the intrigue and the historical debate is both what the footage shows and does not show. Also, two days after the game, Raiders head coach John Madden claimed his coaching film revealed his version of the truth. That footage has vanished.

The Immaculate Reception: A Football Life features new interviews with a total of 11 players from both teams who participated in game, including the two Steelers at the heart of the controversy, John “Frenchy” Fuqua and Franco Harris. Each of the Steeler and Raider players provide their perspective of what happened that day in Three Rivers Stadium. Their version of events has spawned four different conspiracy theories which are discussed in detail. Madden refused to be interviewed for the special because the play still draws so much emotion from him forty years later. Furthermore, NFL Films digitally remastered the film to show an additional image and former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, General Michael Hayden, analyzes the play.

The Immaculate Reception: A Football Life includes interviews with the following people:

Franco Harris – Steelers running back
Terry Bradshaw – Steelers quarterback
John “Frenchy” Fuqua – Steelers running back
Rocky Bleier
– Steelers running Back
John McMakin – Steelers tight end
Andy Russell – Steelers linebacker
Phil Villapiano – Raiders linebacker
George Atkinson – Raiders safety
Phil Villapiano – Raiders linebacker
Willie Brown – Raiders cornerback
Raymond Chester – Raiders tight end
John Madden – Raiders head coach, NFL Films interview from 1986
Al Davis – Owner of the Raiders, NFL Films archive
Art McNally – Former NFL Supervisor of Officials
Stephen J. Dubner – Co-author, Freakonomics
General Michael Hayden – Former Director, Central Intelligence Agency
Andy Masich – President, Heinz History Center
Joe Gordon – Former Steelers PR Director
Scott Paulsen – WDVE Radio, Pittsburgh– Steelers Running Back
Les Banos – Steelers Coaching Camera Operator
Peter King – Sports Illustrated
Peter Richmond – Author of Badasses: The Legend of Snake, Foo, Dr. Death, and John Madden’s Oakland Raiders
Bill Crawford – WDVE, Pittsburgh Radio

Emmy-nominated actor from CBS’ The Good Wife, Josh Charles, narrates.

For the first look at The Immaculate Reception:A Football Life, visit:

Following are select quotes from The Immaculate Reception: A Football Life:

–  “The Immaculate Reception became the Zapruder Film of sports.”Stephen J. Dubner

“I got up and started going ‘what happened?’ – Terry Bradshaw

–  “No one saw what took place.”Rocky Bleier

–  “Once it was dubbed “The Immaculate Reception”, it took on a life of its own.” – Joe Gordon

–  “If you are cynic, like the damn Raiders, you will never accept it.”John “Frenchy” Fuqua

–  “You can’t help but be mesmerized by that image; it is an image that made history.”Andy Masich

–  “We don’t call it the Immaculate Reception; we call it the Immaculate Deception.”George Atkinson

–  “That play bothered me then, it bothered now and it will bother me to the day I die.” – John Madden from a 1986 NFL Films interview

–  “It would be terrible for football lore if we knew everything that we should know about the play.” – Peter King

That is all.

Ken Fang

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013. He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television. Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.