Thursday, January 20, 2011

Classic Sports Thursday

With the Pittsburgh Steelers preparing for a run at yet another Super Bowl, it's perhaps a good time to look back at what might, arguably, be the greatest single moment in Steelers history.  It didn't come from one of the six Super Bowls the team has been in, nor even from a year in which the Steelers won.  And yet it lives on, not only in the minds of Pittsburgh fans, but football fans everywhere.

It is, of course, the Immaculate Reception, Franco Harris' miracle touchdown in the waining seconds of a playoff game against the Oakland Raiders on December 23, 1972.  I remember this game vividly, having seen it live on TV, and having despaired that the Steelers appeared headed for a heartbreaking 7-6 loss to the Raiders.  Then, of course, a miracle happened.

If you weren't alive back in '72, or if you didn't see the game, this is probably what you remember it having looked like:

Yet, if you saw the game live as I did, or if you've been fortunate enough to have seen the actual TV replay (rather than the NFL Films version above), you might get quite a different perspective on what happened:

See the difference? The NFL Films version is excellent at showing you what happened and how, but it's only in the NBC coverage, broadcast by the great Curt Gowdy, that you experience the sheer shock of what happened as it happened. In the first clip we see how the rookie phenom Harris, a man truly in the right place at the right time, made the most of his opportunity by grabbing the ball just before it hit the ground. The angle captured by NFL Films is perfect - you couldn't have asked for better if it had been choreographed.

In that sense, it's almost too good. Look again at the NBC clip, as we see the ball go completely out of the picture, presumably bouncing harmlessly to the turf, the Raiders defenders all but celebrating their victory - when all of a sudden there's Harris, coming out of nowhere, nexplicably running downfield for a touchdown. The shock and sheer delight of the Pittsburgh fans, having seen tragedy turn to triumph in the blink of an eye, is wonderful. (Unless you were rooting for the Raiders, in which case perhaps the wounds have healed by now.)

It's truly a What the Hell? moment, and seeing it in the original context makes a truly exciting moment even more thrilling. I wonder if anything nearly as exciting will happen this weekend?
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