John Steigerwald

Column John Steigerwald

John Steigerwald has been a fixture of TV, radio, and newspaper sports in Pittsburgh, and has a Sunday column in the Observer-Reporter.

Common sense says officials called the Immaculate Reception right

Common sense says officials called the Immaculate Reception right

December 22, 2012

I was there.

Forty years ago, Dec. 23, 1972, I was standing in the exit on the second highest level in the Three Rivers Stadium end zone, poised to beat the crowd, watching Franco Harris running toward the other end of the field and into history.

While I was watching Franco Harris running down the sideline, I was yelling, “No, no, no.” It wasn’t because I didn’t want him to score, but because I thought it was going to be called an incomplete pass.

I assumed the football had hit off Steelers running back Frenchy Fuqua’s hands, and I knew the NFL rule that, at that time, called any pass touched by two offensive players incomplete.

Of course, we still don’t know for sure if the ball ever touched Fuqua’s hands, but the officials could not possibly have known either, and they had to call it a touchdown.

The Oakland Raiders call it the Immaculate Deception, and they might be able to make the argument that the ball was touched by Fuqua. What seems to be missing in their argument is common sense.

They base their claim on a film that has been slowed down, enlarged, enhanced and scrutinized in every possible way. And they still can’t claim to be 100 percent sure.

The officials had to make that call in real time.

It’s absurd to suggest they could have made a determination in the split second that the play happened.

Some other observations on the Immaculate Reception:

• The next time you see the video, pay attention to Terry Bradshaw’s throw. That pass goes about 45 yards in the air, and the trajectory is what you normally see on passes of 20 to 25 yards. It was hummed. And if it had not been thrown so hard, the ball would not have bounced back to Harris. Very few quarterbacks in NFL history could throw a rocket like that.

• Spend some time thinking about what a circus it would have been if the NFL had been using video replays to review calls. They might still be reviewing it.

Actually, someone should tell the Raiders that, even if they had been able to review the play, the video would have been considered inconclusive and the call would not have been overturned.

• You’ve seen the video a few thousand times. Only about 55,000 people in Western Pennsylvania saw it as it was happening. Close your eyes and try to imagine what you would have been imagining if you were hearing it described for the first time on the radio.

• Harris’ touchdown was the last grain of sand falling from an hour glass that held 40 years of frustration and ineptness. The hour glass was turned over after that play and, in the 40 years since, the Steelers have been the best team in the NFL.

•When you’re looking at your credit card bills next week and wondering how you’ll pay them off, while you’re listening to the stories about the fiscal cliff in Washington and how your taxes are going to be going up, here are some numbers for you to roll around in your brain. They come from Harvard professor Judith Grant and economist Andrew Zimbalist, quoted in a story by Patrick Hruby of Sports on Earth:

• $16 billion. That’s the total cost to the public for the capital and operating costs for the 78 pro stadiums built or renovated between 1991 and 2004 – enough to build three Nimitz Aircraft carriers or fund 15 Saturn V moon rocket launches (They only launched 12). It’s also more than Chrysler received in the federal auto bailout and bigger than the GDP of 84 different countries.

• $2.4 billion. That’s how much the Miami Marlins’ new ballpark will cost the taxpayers of Dade County, Fla., by the time the bonds that were issued come due. The mayor of Miami, who pushed for the ballpark, lost his job recently by the biggest margin ever in a recall election.

• $2.5 million. That’s the amount spent on the animatronic outfield fish statue.

• $500 million to $4 billion. That’s the estimated amount in public subsidies spent on new parks for the Yankee and Mets.

• $186 million. The amount given to New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson for not moving his team.

• $555 million. Professor Long’s estimate of the actual cost to the fine people of Hamilton County, Ohio for the home of the Cincinnati Bengals, Paul Brown Stadium.

• $34.6 million. The debt payment on Paul Brown Stadium, which is 17 percent of Hamilton County’s total budget.

Ho, ho, ho.

•There are lots of reasons for the Steelers’ loss last week in Dallas, but the worst play of the game was the last one by the Steelers’ offense. That would be Ben Roethlisberger’s pick-six equivalent in overtime. Running it back to the six-inch line to set up an extra point-like field goal accomplishes the same thing as scoring a TD. There is no play a quarterback can make – or not make – that is worse than that.

•Merry Christmas.

John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter. He hosts an Internet talk show.



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