Most Pittsburgh Steelers fans will tell you that 1974 was the dawn of a dynasty, as the Steelers won their first of four Super Bowls in a six-year stretch, from ’74-79.
But what they might not know is that the dynasty really began in 1972. Specifically, it began on Dec. 23, 1972, with the Immaculate Reception.
With Pittsburgh trailing Oakland 7-6 with less than 30 seconds to go in the AFC divisional playoffs, Terry Bradshaw dropped back and chucked a pass across the field to John Fuqua, who was hit right as the ball arrived and was unable to make the catch.
Before the ball touched the ground, however, Steelers fullback Franco Harris scooped it up and ran for the game-winning touchdown.
Yes, Pittsburgh lost the following week in the AFC Championship to the undefeated Dolphins, but for many Steelers, the Immaculate Reception was the beginning of their dynasty.
“I think it was a realization,” former Steelers halfback Rocky Bleier said on The Damon Amendolara Show. “In 1972, it was the first time in the history of that franchise – in 40 years it had been in existence – that the team won the division or got into the playoffs. And so that payoff game against the Oakland Raiders (had a lot of) hype that went with it. And then to have it come down to the final seconds of the game, a deflected pass, Franco Harris scoops it up, goes down (and scores) – (and) now (it’s) termed all these years later the Immaculate Reception – it kind of changed the course of direction.”
“And I say that because it was maybe the (turning point) of a belief,” Bleier continued. “Prior to that, it was always the same old Steelers. They lose the game. And then all of a sudden, it was like, no, we won the game. The ball bounced in our direction rather than the opposite direction. So as you think abut it, yeah, I think that it could be a turning point in a belief system that hey, maybe some of these players, maybe this new coaching staff, maybe his direction and vision – there’s something to it. It was a movement ahead.”
It also changed the way Pittsburgh natives and residents saw and felt about each other.
“When people think about Pittsburgh – or going back 40 years ago when they thought about Pittsburgh – of this steel city, smoke-filled, street lights on during the day, the public image outside of those people who lived in Pittsburgh was not the greatest,” Bleier said. “Now all of a sudden – not that that changed – but now all of a sudden the sports teams change. There’s a certain pride. The Pirates were wining – or starting to win – as well. There was kind of that movement: Okay, I might be working at a steel mill, but we got a pretty good sports team here. We got a pretty good baseball team here. And that kind of changed, I think, how people saw themselves and what they could accomplish.”
As for 1974, Pittsburgh drafted four future Hall of Famers in Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster. Those legendary Steelers would help Pittsburgh to a 16-6 win over Minnesota in Super Bowl IX.
That was 40 years ago.
“Oh, my goodness gracious,” said Bleier, 68. “Time flies by so quickly.”