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Robinson: Immaculate Reception kick-started Steelers' dominance

| Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Franco Harris stands near a new monument celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception near Heinz Field on Saturday evening. (Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review)

Memories of Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception.

It can be difficult to explain to someone who wasn't alive at the time what it was like for a franchise that had never won at all to win big in 1972. (Some perspective: The Steelers had seven winning seasons in their first 39 years. They've had 31 in their last 40.)

The four seasons leading up to that 11-3 season in 1972? How about 2-11-1, 1-13, 5-9 and 6-8.

Some of the '72 Steelers explain what it all meant — Harris' arrival, the season that followed and the catch that captivated a city:

Mike Wagner: “When Franco was drafted, there was some question if he was the guy. Lydell Mitchell had been the All-American running back (at Penn State). He came to camp and kind of tiptoed a little bit. But as the season progressed, and you saw some of his moves and his power, I remember thinking, ‘I'm glad I don't have to play against this guy.' ”

Mel Blount: “The piece that all made it happen was getting a big-time running back like Franco.”

Dick Haley (Steelers' player personnel chief): “Franco, that was a tough one, and it wasn't easy to get him. (Chuck Noll liked running back) Robert Newhouse, but we (Haley and scouting director Art Rooney Jr.) didn't think it was close, though it's easy to say that now.”

Art Rooney II (current Steelers president): “That was the year. Franco comes, and he was that missing piece. He won some games with long runs at the end of the game, and we built off that.”

Harris: “Forty years of waiting to win and being the worst football team ever, and then, in 1972, it turned around, and it was incredible. Pittsburgh fans were letting loose of 40 years of pent-up emotion and wanting to cheer, and it was phenomenal, it really was.”

Frenchy Fuqua: “Each game we won we got more confidence, and it just built and built and built. You could see it not only in the players but in the coaches.”

Wagner: “You see the ball go up in the air, and Franco makes a great move toward it. The run itself was spectacular, but to catch the ball and get into the end zone with the angle (Raiders cornerback Jimmy Warren) had on him? People forget Franco had great hands.”

Harris: “It was being at the right place at the right time. That's all I can really say.”

Fuqua: “No one knew what was going on. It was seconds, but it felt like an eternity.”

Harris: “The play signifies to me that we weren't the same old Steelers anymore; the same old Steelers would have found a way to lose that playoff game, and we found a way to win. To me, that really set the tone for the decade that was to come.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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