The Immaculate Reception is football’s greatest mystery. Like the Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping and the Kennedy Assassination, it has puzzled Americans for decades. Who did Terry Bradshaw’s pass strike first – Jack Tatum or Frenchy Fuqua? Did Franco Harris catch the ricochet cleanly or did he trap the ball off the Tartan Turf? Should the play have been nullified by a clipping penalty? And who did the referee, Fred Swearingen, talk to on the Pirates dugout telephone before signaling touchdown?
Was the Reception “Immaculate”? Or was it, as the Oakland Raiders have alleged for years, an “Immaculate Deception”? For the past ten months, NFL Films has conducted an in-depth investigation the results of which will be unveiled in “A Football Life: The Immaculate Reception” on Wednesday, December 19th at 8 p.m. ET, only on NFL Network.
Researchers combed through all existing documentary evidence of the play – still photographs, network news coverage, what remains of the television and radio broadcasts and the film that rests inside the NFL Films vault. Using the same techniques employed by FBI forensic experts, the footage from each film camera was digitally re-mastered and retransferred to show the entire image – including the sprocket holes.
So, what really happened? This is your chance to decide for yourself. Here, for the first time, are the most famous angles of the play – unedited and uncut, from head to tail, beginning with the so-called Gerber Camera, filmed by Jay Gerber from midfield near the press box.
Here is the most iconic image of the Immaculate Reception, captured by the telephoto lens of Ernie Ernst from the north end zone.
Steve Sabol was also working the Immaculate Reception game as a cameraman. Next week, we’ll post what his camera captured of the most famous event in football history.