The most heartbreaking playoff moment for all 32 NFL teams – FOXSports.com
While the Tuck Rule game would have been the worst moment for many NFL franchises, the Raiders have a playoff loss that was even worse. In 1972, John Madden’s crew held a 7-6 lead with 1:13 remaining in their AFC divisional game. Pittsburgh faced a fourth-and-10 from its own 40. Terry Bradshaw scrambled to buy some time in the pocket and then heaved a pass to Frenchy Fuqua. Just as the pass reached the Steelers receiver, the fearsome Raiders linebacker Jack Tatum dipped his shoulder for one of his patented upending hits and knocked Fuqua down, but not before the ball struck someone’s helmet or a pad, caromed 7 yards backward and was scooped up by Hall of Famer Franco Harris just before it hit the turf. Raiders defenders in the secondary thought the play was over and paused for an instant, which was just enough to spring Harris, who outran four Raiders defenders for the unlikeliest touchdown in NFL history and one that earned the best nickname for any play in sports history: The Immaculate Reception.
The play brought immediate controversy. At the time, the NFL rule book said two offensive players couldn’t touch the ball consecutively, meaning if the pass hit Fuqua’s helmet and went straight to Harris, the play was illegal. If the ball was last touched by Tatum before ricocheting back, it was a touchdown. There was no instant replay at the time but it was used nonetheless when the referee made a controversial call to the NFL’s supervisor of officials, who confirmed the ball hit Tatum, upholding the touchdown.
Tatum insisted the ball didn’t touch him while Fuqua declared the same. In his postgame presser, Madden said he thought Tatum hit the ball (which would have upheld the touchdown and ended the controversy) but doubt still lingers, not helped by inconclusive, grainy television replays. (FWIW, I think it hit Fuqua, not Tatum. Watch for yourself.) Only two men really knew what happened and now that Tatum is dead, Fuqua is the secret keeper. He says he’s always asked about it and gives the same answer every time.
“I’ll never tell.”