The 50thth Anniversary of The Immaculate Reception was recently celebrated in December. It’s considered one of the best, if not the best, playoff moment in NFL history.
Everyone should know what happened, but just in case you don’t know, here’s a quick synopsis. With about 20 seconds remaining, Pittsburgh was trailing Oakland 7-6 in an AFC divisional playoff game. In fourth place, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw down a pass to John Fuqua about 25 yards.
Fuqua collided with Raiders defenseman Jack Tatum as the ball arrived, and it bounced back and into the hands of running back Franco Harris. He sprinted toward the end zone and scored the go-ahead touchdown with just five seconds left.
Here’s something you might not know about this game. Former Alabama quarterback Kenny Stabler gave the Raiders a 7-6 lead with a minute and a half left to play a 30-yard touchdown rush.
So instead of Stabler being remembered for his playoff heroics, Harris and the Steelers got all the glory, a moment that’s still celebrated 50 years later.
Alabama still has its fair share of NFL playoff moments. Here are some of them, in no particular order.
Joe Namath Guarantee
The Super Bowl was still in its infancy in 1969 when quarterback Joe Namath led his New York Jets into Super Bowl III against the favored Baltimore Colts in Miami.
Namath was the league’s brash young star who talked a little too much leading up to the game. During dinner at the Miami Touchdown Club that Namath was speaking at, a fan called out to Namath. He didn’t take the remark well and said, “Wait a minute, let’s wait. You guys from Baltimore have been talking all week, but I’ve got news for you, mate. We will win the game. I guarantee it.”
The news media quickly picked up the quote and ran with it. The quote brought additional attention to the game, but Namath backed up his comments and the Jets won 16-7. Namath passed 206 yards.
The game is known for its guarantee, but the image of Broadway Joe walking off the field with a finger raised is an iconic NFL moment.
hook and side
The game was known as “Epic in Miami” and featured former Crimson Tide running back Tony Nathan in one of the most memorable playoff moments.
Nathan’s Dolphins followed the Chargers in the 1982 AFC divisional round. In the closing moments of the first half, Dolphins quarterback Don Strock connected with receiver Duriel Harris on a curl route. The defense collapsed on him, but Strock threw the ball back to a trailing Nathan, who did the rest. He rolled 25 yards to the end zone for a touchdown to give Miami some momentum at halftime.
The Chargers won in overtime, but Nathan’s moment was one of the most electrifying moments in playoff history.
spirit to the mail
Here’s a playoff instance where Stabler was on the winning side.
In the 1977 AFC divisional round, the Oakland Raiders were three points behind the Baltimore Colts with just two minutes remaining. “Snake” Stabler chunked a 45-yard pass to tight end Dave Casper, who made an over-the-shoulder catch at the Colts 15. The Raiders ended the game with a field goal to send it into overtime.
Snake and Casper, nicknamed “Ghost” after the cartoon character Casper, have reconnected in OT, this time for the game-winning touchdown.
Oakland won Super Bowl XI against the Minnesota Vikings.
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sea of hands
Here’s another playoff moment from Stabler.
The Raiders trailed the Miami Dolphins with just under a minute remaining in the 1974 AFC division round. Stabler fell back to pass from the Dolphins 8-yard line but couldn’t find an open receiver. Stabler climbed out of the pocket and just before he was tackled he heaved a pass into the end zone near Raider receiver Clarence Davis and three Dolphin defenders.
Davis somehow held the pass through the crowd of Dolphins defenders for the game-winning touchdown. It prevented the Dolphins from winning their third straight Super Bowl.
Not many defensive plays make those lists of memorable playoff moments. Defense attorney Jeremiah Castille was involved in one in 1988.
Castille’s Denver Broncos attempted to fend off the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Championship game. The Broncos led 38-33 late in the fourth quarter, but the Browns were on the move.
The Browns reached the 8-yard line with a minute remaining when Earnest Byner made a handoff and ran toward the end zone for a safe touchdown. Castille flew in and stuck his hand in Byner’s midsection, who slapped the ball loose at the 3-yard line. Castille recaptured the ball for the crucial turnover.
A year earlier, the Broncos defeated the Browns in the AFC title game with another iconic moment — John Elway’s “The Drive.” The Broncos won both games and advanced to the Super Bowl.
This game had it all: drama, Hall of Famer coaches and players, and a championship at stake. And it took place in an environment with a temperature of minus 15 degrees and wind chill of minus 48 degrees.
It was a miserable experience for everyone involved, but the finish was fantastic.
Former Alabama quarterback Bart Starr and the Green Bay Packers trailed the Dallas Cowboys by three points in the closing seconds in the 1967 NFL championship game. The Packers had the ball at the Cowboys 1-yard line. Starr called his own number and pushed behind his offensive line and into the end zone for the victory point.
The Packers won and reached Super Bowl II against the Oakland Raiders.
Red right 88
Ozzie Newsome was one of the most dominant NFL tight ends to ever play the game. It’s unfortunate that he never experienced the joy of a Super Bowl victory as a player with the Cleveland Browns.
In 1981 he was close. The Browns were 14-12 behind the Oakland Raiders in an AFC division game with about two minutes remaining. Just like the Ice Bowl, the conditions were extremely cold. At 4 degrees it wasn’t as bad as the Ice Bowl but it was still difficult conditions. Browns kicker Don Cockroft missed two field goals in the game.
That may have contributed to the play call when Cleveland reached the Raiders’ 13-yard line with less than a minute to play. The Browns called Red Right 88. Browns quarterback Brian Sipe attempted to throw a pass to Newsome into the end zone, but Raider defenseman Mike Davis made the interception to seal the win.
The Raiders later won Super Bowl XV.
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