NFL News | Latest NFL Football News | NFL.com

What if 'The Immaculate Reception' never happened?

9.3 percent.

According to Cynthia Frelund, that is the probability the Pittsburgh Steelers had of topping the Oakland Raiders in the waning moments of their 1972 AFC divisional playoff game. And then Franco Harris hauled in the "Immaculate Reception" and shattered every data model ever created.

What a moment, right? Now, imagine living in a world where arguably the most famous play in NFL history never happened? What if the Steelers, down 7-6 and facing fourth-and-10 on their own 40 with 22 seconds remaining and no timeouts, fell to the Raiders? Could they have knocked off Don Shula and the undefeated Dolphins for the AFC Championship?

An NFL Network panel considered the potential ripple effects.

Dave Dameshek pointed out that Oakland, helmed on the sidelines by John Madden and under center by Ken Stabler, seemed to hold its own against Miami for a short window. In the five times the teams faced off between Madden's first season in 1969 and 1971, the Raiders went 2-1-1.

If that hungry Oakland team ends Miami's streak and wins Super Bowl VII, Dameshek believes Madden's all-time stock rises and Shula's dips. Losing before SB VII, on top of his SB III and VI losses, could've stamped the future Hall of Famer with the stigma of not being able to win the big one, even if his team still manages to win a ring in 1973.

Brian Baldinger felt the Raiders' No. 8-ranked defense would've made an AFC title win practically a formality, as well as a jump-off point for a "Silver and Black" dynasty. To which Frelund argued is an outcome that is far from a foregone conclusion seeing as how Miami's D -- allowed a league-best 12.2 PPG -- were no slouches themselves.

Needless to say, a Raiders win had the potential to rewrite numerous stories, robbing us all of multiple storybook endings tailor-made for a Hollywood script.

And speaking of La-La Land, how about this scenario? Had Terry Bradshaw's popularity not skyrocketed because his improbable pass dropped to the ground -- or worse, was picked off -- would his off-field endeavors, which included several movie roles and a 35-plus-year TV career, have materialized? Frelund doesn't believe so.

The absence of the legendary catch also poses an interesting twist of fate for the 70s Cowboys who lost two Super Bowls to Pittsburgh. Dameshek said a win in either game could've made them the team of the decade. A situation Steve Wyche added would've elevated Tom Landry higher up the historic rankings and possibly made it more difficult for owner Jerry Jones to replace him with Jimmy Johnson in 1989.

Clearly, this play changes a lot if it doesn't happen but, for Daniel Jeremiah, it all boils down to one thing: from 1969-74, Pittsburgh added 10 future Hall of Famers via the draft; all of those guys were key to the team's four Super Bowl wins from 1974-79. Translation? They were just way too stacked.

"It doesn't impact the Steelers' dynasty. When you have that many Hall of Fame players, nah, there's so much talent on that team."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) rushes during an NFL football game between the between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Peter Joneleit)

See all the Action

Replay every game all season.