Fuqua remains mum about Reception

| Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Assassin is gone, but Frenchy Fuqua isn't ready to end any controversy surrounding the Immaculate Reception.

One day after former Oakland Raiders Pro Bowl safety Jack Tatum died from a heart attack, Fuqua, once again, declined to publicly discuss one of the most famous plays in NFL history.

The former Steelers running back gave his standard cryptic response from his home in Detroit on Wednesday.

"I know exactly (what happened on the play)," he said. "What happened on that play was truly immaculate."

Fuqua and Tatum, who had become friends in recent years, will be forever linked to the Immaculate Reception in the 1972 playoffs at Three Rivers Stadium.

Tatum collided with Fuqua as Terry Bradshaw's fourth-down pass arrived with 22 seconds to play. The ball ricocheted in the air before Steelers running back Franco Harris made a shoe-string catch and raced 42 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

Tatum had claimed the pass touched Fuqua first, which would have made Harris' catch illegal, according to then-NFL rules. Officials ruled the pass first touched Tatum, giving the Steelers their first home playoff victory.

The debate still rages. About four years ago, Fuqua, Tatum and former Steeler running back Reggie Harrison were gathered at a memorabilia show in Virginia.

Harrison tried to get to the bottom of things.

Fuqua recalls: "Reggie said, 'I got you two together. What happened on that play?' Jack said, 'I don't know who touched the ball. I was trying to tear your head off.' I said, 'What happened on that play was truly immaculate.' "

While replays of the grainy footage were inconclusive, a Carnegie Mellon professor in 2004 analyzed film clips and determined the ball, based on the trajectory of its ricochet and the distance it traveled, must have bounced off Tatum, who was running upfield at the time.

Fuqua said he and Tatum rarely spoke about the Immaculate Reception as their friendship grew over the years. They frequently crossed paths at memorabilia shows and sports banquets. Tatum always denied the ball hit him, but Fuqua is skeptical.

"Jack was sincere. I don't think he knew what happened on that play," Fuqua said. "He went to tear my head off. He thought the play was over."

Fuqua was saddened to learn of Tatum's death. He said, to this day, the hard-hitting safety, whose 1978 hit left Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley paralyzed, is the only Raider he ever grew to respect.

"My feeling for the Oakland Raiders is as bitter today as they were in the 1970s," Fuqua said. "But I got a chance to know Jack pretty well. He wasn't a bad guy. He was the only decent Raider that I knew.

"I'm just glad I had the opportunity to know him, not from across the sidelines, but personally. I can honestly say there were two Jack Tatums: the assassin and the fun-loving guy."

Fuqua said Tatum would have fit in well with the great Super Bowl champions of the 1970s.

"He could have been a Steeler; he was just drafted by the wrong team," Fuqua said. "He would have fit in (with the Steelers). We would have given him that class."

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