Talk of Fame Network
There are few more memorable plays in NFL history … few more climatic touchdowns … few more controversial calls … than the "Immaculate Reception," the last-second Franco Harris score off a deflected pass that beat the Oakland Raiders in the 1972 playoffs and launched the Pittsburgh Steelers' dynasty.
In Pittsburgh, it is immortalized with a statue of Harris clutching the football just before it hits the ground -- a statue that greets arriving passengers at the city's airport. But in Oakland, it is remembered as the "Immaculate Deception," with the Raiders and their fans convinced it never happened ... or never should have been allowed to happen.
"How many stupid flags on that play should have been thrown on the Steelers?" Former Raiders' linebacker Phil Villapiano asked on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. "We got screwed.
"We did a little NFL Films thing not long ago, where they had an NFL camera showing Franco trapping the ball. So it was an illegal catch. So besides (Frenchy) Fuqua (the intended receiver, off whose shoulder the pass ricocheted) ... besides all the holding on the line of scrimmage ... besides me being clipped … it was an illegal catch that hit the ground.,
"I brought this up to Franco last year, and he has a real problem with this. But I don’t care."
Part of our "Decemberists" series celebrating the best and worst of this month in NFL history, Villapiano remains close to Harris, the back he was supposed to cover on that play and someone forever linked in time with him -- so much so, Villapiano said, that Harris calls him every year on Dec. 23, the anniversary of the game.
Neither Villapiano nor his teammates caught Franco in December, 1972, but the former Raiders' star hasn’t given up – joking that he plans to change history by taking down that airport statue of a a play he and Raiders' fans insist wasn’t legit.
"I think we should change that statue immediately," he said. "I told Franco the last tackle I ever make in my life is I'm going to come off the airplane with about 12 Heinekens in me and ram that statue and I'm going to drive it over the top and we re going to both go down on to that dinosaur that’s down below. It will go right through my body and his body, too.
"He tells me I'm losing it. No, that’s what I want to do . I want to make the last tackle of my life at the airport. I'm going to take him over the top.
"You’ve seen the dinosaur down below haven’t you? All of a sudden, Pittsburgh's claiming dinosaurs and stuff. They got George Washington, Franco Harris and dinosaurs. What does this town think they are? I got a little problem with the town of Pittsburgh, also."
(Franco Harris photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Steelers)
(Phil Villapiano photo courtesy of Oakland Raiders)