Art Rooney II remembers NFL’s greatest play
Part of the lore emanating from the Immaculate Reception is built around Steelers founder Art Rooney heading down to the locker room and missing the greatest play in NFL history.
His grandson and namesake, Art II, got to see it all.
“I was on the field, it was the last year I was doing that on the sidelines,” the current Steelers owner said. “Everyone was ready to talk off the field like we had lost. And then it happened, right in front of me.”
What happened with 22 seconds remaining in the 1972 AFC playoff game with Oakland was Terry Bradshaw’s desperation throw to Frenchy Fuqua on fourth down, trailing the Raiders 7-6. Oakland safety Jack Tatum arrived and hit Fuqua from behind as the ball arrived. It ricocheted to Steelers fullback Franco Harris, who made a shoestring catch and headed down the sideline for the winning points.
“It was a wild scene,” Rooney recalled, a smile creasing his face. “There were fans running on the field after it was over; I never had experienced that before. Or since.
“One of our former players, Brady Keys, came over and put me in a bear hug so tight I almost passed out.”
Keys played seven seasons for the Steelers in the 1960s, when they were perennial losers. As Rooney noted this summer, nothing remained the same.
“That was the turning point, and there is no discussion or arguing that,” he said. “Most franchises may have had a turning point, but they can’t pinpoint it the way the Steelers can. Things changed from that point for the franchise, my grandfather, the city.
“My grandfather had never had a team win a playoff game. They had never come close for 40 years. He went through some rough sledding.
“From there, we won four Super Bowls in the 1970s. That was our era, and the city got a new perception of itself, a self-worth for the people of Pittsburgh. It showed that perennial losers could become winners. It changed the psyche to, ‘We can do this, too.’”