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On Dec. 23, 1972, I stayed away from home -- so that I could see the Immaculate Reception!

From Jan. 2013 with some 2018 edits

Staying away from home on Dec. 23, 1972: The Immaculate Reception Story

Growing up in a family with a mother who cared little -- and knew less -- about sports was challenging at times.

However, my mother never learned the true story about why I did not want to return to Lilly on Dec. 23, 1972, for Christmas. Ordinarily, I would have left work that Friday and would have tried to spend as much time at home as possible for Christmas.

I was working and living in the Williamsport area, about two-and-a-half hours from my hometown of Lilly, Pa., and I was off work from Fri., Dec. 22 until the 26th. Even though I was off on Saturday, I told my mother that I would not return home on Friday because I "had some things to do."

My mother was clueless about the real reason for my staying in Williamsport: I could watch the Steelers' AFC playoff game against the Oakland Raiders on television there, but not at home. The Johnstown (WJAC) and Altoona (WFBG) television stations, the only two that we could receive via our antenna, were blacked out by a ridiculous NFL rule about not broadcasting a game within a 90-mile radius of the stadium.

Consequently, I was staying in Williamsport for most of the day on Saturday to watch the Steelers pummel the Raiders (which did not happen).

Despite this, I still almost missed the Immaculate Reception, Terry Bradshaw's ricochet pass that wound up in the hands of Franco Harris who raced into the end zone for a touchdown on the last play of the game, one that resulted in a Steelers' 13-7 victory. I had my gifts and other things packed in the car, so I had just one suitcase at the door so that I could leave immediately after the game.

I had almost given up hope and was standing at the door with my hand on the doorknob. Since I had coached a grade school football team in the late 60s and early 70s, I remembered that the game is never over until the final whistle.

Or so we taught the players.

While I had honestly given up hope of a Steelers' victory, I remained for the final play, one that made my Christmas a very happy one. I figuratively flew down I-80, 220, and 22 to Lilly after watching that play, though I stayed even longer to make sure that the touchdown was legit and that we actually won that game.

That is still my favorite play in Steeler lore -- despite all of the Super Bowl wins.

My major problem was that upon my return to Lilly, my mother continued to bug me about what I had to do on Saturday that precluded my coming home 24 hours earlier. [This was not about spending quality time with me. We did not have that kind of relationship. She just wanted me to do some of the heavy lifting around the house.]

My dad smirked when she was prodding me about it, but he never blew my cover. After all, he was one from whom I received that love of sports. We actually never talked about it even after my mother passed away in 1974.

In addition, I knew that my brother, Jim, a.k.a Father Conrad of "Pere," would tell my mother the true story if I told him. He could never keep a secret. So, I am not certain that I ever told him the real truth.

My favorite part of the recent 40th year celebration -- as it was on the 10th, the 25th, and the 35th -- is watching John Madden, the delusional Raiders' coach, argue that the play was illegal, that his defensive back, the nefarious Jack Tatum, never touched the ball. He will never let go of that anger.

The time has come. Let it go, John.

So, the Immaculate Reception was one that I watched on my small, black-and-white TV and can still happily recollect it 40 years later, realizing that no one except my dad at the time was able to figure out why I made that decision to stay away from family for a day or so at Christmas.

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