Memorable Plays: Gotta be 'Immaculate'

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
11:30
AM ET
Nothing symbolizes NFL history more than a subzero championship game at Lambeau Field, one decided by a surprising 1-yard quarterback dive behind arguably the best block the league has ever seen. For that reason, it had seemed increasingly clear to me that the Ice Bowl would triumph in ESPN.com's project to determine the most memorable play in NFL history.

You, dear voters, had other ideas. The Ice Bowl won't win this tournament; it didn't so much as make the finals. No, you'll spend the next few days deciding whether "The Catch" or the "Immaculate Reception" deserves top honors in this exhaustive effort.

The Catch eliminated the Ice Bowl -- and it wasn't close. The Immaculate Reception, meanwhile, advanced past the "Helmet Catch" of New York Giants receiver David Tyree in Super Bowl XLII.

The Catch is nice and all, but now that the Ice Bowl is out, I'm going all in on the Immaculate Reception. Below are my three reasons. May they guide you, keep you and give you peace.
  1. Singularity burns our memories. Franco Harris' miracle touchdown catch to win a 1972 divisional playoff game for the Pittsburgh Steelers was just that -- a play that seemingly couldn't have happened without divine intervention. How rare is it to see a pass deflected so far? What are the chances it would sail toward a Hall of Fame running back? How many times out of a million would that running back already be running toward the end zone? It's so memorable because we've never seen that combination of factors and might never again.
  2. On the other hand, we've seen countless games -- preseason, regular-season or postseason -- end with a catch that required a high degree of skill. Dwight Clark made a leaping catch at the far reaches of his 6-foot-4 wingspan to win the 1981 NFC Championship Game for the San Francisco 49ers. It put the 49ers in the Super Bowl for the first time and launched a dynasty. At its essence, however, it was an awesome play -- like hundreds of others we have seen before and after.
  3. Football historians might believe the 49ers' magic under Bill Walsh and Joe Montana began with The Catch, which adds additional significance. But I wonder how many people outside Pittsburgh realize the Immaculate Reception was the first playoff victory in Steelers history. It too launched a dynasty.

It's a free country, and you're welcome to disagree, but I can't think of a reason to avoid the obvious: The Immaculate Reception outclasses The Catch based on the context of this tournament. We'll find out Monday if you agree.
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