Franco Harris’ ‘Immaculate Reception’ was ‘illegal catch,’ radio caller claims

Franco Harris died earlier this week, just days before the 50th anniversary of his “Immaculate Reception.”

His Pittsburgh Steelers were set to retire Harris’ No. 32 in a ceremony Saturday against the Las Vegas Raiders, the same team Harris scored that legendary touchdown against.

Saturday’s ceremony will now be one of remembrance not only for the play but Harris’ life.

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Running back Franco Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers carries the ball against the Denver Broncos during the mid-1970s in a game at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Harris played for the Steelers from 1972-83.

Running back Franco Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers carries the ball against the Denver Broncos during the mid-1970s in a game at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Harris played for the Steelers from 1972-83.
(Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

But a caller on ESPN New York radio wanted to remember Harris differently. Louie in New Jersey called 98.7’s “The Michael Kay Show” to contest the legality of the catch.

“I feel bad for the guy dying … That was an illegal catch,” Louie said. 

Franco Harris, left, and John Fuqua, former running backs for the Pittsburgh Steelers, wave Terrible Towels before a game between the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field Dec. 23, 2012, in Pittsburgh.

Franco Harris, left, and John Fuqua, former running backs for the Pittsburgh Steelers, wave Terrible Towels before a game between the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field Dec. 23, 2012, in Pittsburgh.
(George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

Louie does have an argument that’s never quite been fully settled. 

The widespread belief — and the call made on the field — is the pass deflected off Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum, but there is also widespread contention that the ball actually hit off the Steelers’ John Fuqua. 

Back then, a batted ball by an offensive player could not be advanced by another offensive player. By rule, only the first offensive player to touch the ball was eligible to make a catch, unless a defender touched it afterward.

FRANCO HARRIS REMINISCED ABOUT ‘IMMACULATE RECEPTION’ ON CURRENT STEELERS PLAYER’S PODCAST HOURS BEFORE DEATH

“I’m 79, I remember it. [Raiders defensive back] Jack Tatum did not touch the ball,” Louie said, suggesting Fuqua touched the ball, and only he should have been eligible to catch the ball and advance it.

John Madden, the Raiders’ head coach at the time, initially believed the ball touched Tatum but later said he would “never know for sure what happened.” Tatum himself, while initially stating the ball never touched him, later acknowledged he wasn’t sure.

The Pittsburgh Steelers' Franco Harris (32) eludes a tackle by the Oakland Raiders' Jimmy Warren as he runs 42 yards for a touchdown after catching a deflected pass during an AFC divisional playoff game in Pittsburgh Dec. 23, 1972.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Franco Harris (32) eludes a tackle by the Oakland Raiders’ Jimmy Warren as he runs 42 yards for a touchdown after catching a deflected pass during an AFC divisional playoff game in Pittsburgh Dec. 23, 1972.
(AP Photo/Harry Cabluck, File)

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The Steelers lost the AFC Championship the following week to the 17-0 Miami Dolphins.

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