- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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In Kevin Cook's "The Last Headbangers," which will be published in September, the biggest controversy of the Immaculate Reception comes up again and will surely lead to another debate among Steelers and Raiders fans.
The legendary play featured Steelers running back Franco Harris scooping up a caromed, fourth-down pass before it hit the ground and running for the winning touchdown against the Raiders in a 1972 AFC divisional playoff game.
The critical question, which has been argued for over four decades, is did the ball carom off the Steelers halfback Frenchy Fuqua or Raiders safety Jack Tatum? If it bounced off Fuqua without ever touching Tatum, then Harris's reception -- and the Immaculate Reception -- was illegal.
Here's an excerpt from the book:
On the field, Tatum charged Fuqua again. "Tell them you touched it!" Tatum knew the rule: If two offensive players in a row touch the ball, it's no catch. No touchdown; Raiders win.
Referee Swearingen jogged back to the field. He raised his arms: touchdown.
In the Steelers' locker room, Fuqua told a hometown reporter, "The guy hit me and the ball bounced off my chest." Linebacker Russell spun Fuqua around. "No," he said. "What you mean is, the ball hit Tatum."
Fuqua nodded. "Oh, yeah. That's right," he told the Pittsburgh writer, who never reported Fuqua's first quote. "That's right, Tatum hit the ball."
Maybe. Or maybe Fuqua, slightly concussed, wasn't sure.
None of the replays show whether it was Fuqua or Tatum who hit the ball. But that's part of the mystique of the play after all.