5 plays that still haunt Steelers fans to this day
December 31, 1972, AFC Championship Game Pittsburgh 17 Miami 21
When hired in 1969, Chuck Noll set out to create a juggernaut in the NFL. By 1972 the Steelers went 11-3 for the first time in team history and made the AFC Championship game. For the first time, good things happened for the Steelers. The week before, they knocked off the Raiders when Franco Harris scored a touchdown in the last second of the game when he caught the deflected pass intended for Frenchy Fuqua. Now they faced the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins had, for the first time in league history went undefeated in the regular season. Pittsburgh felt poised to end the Dolphins quest for an undefeated season.
That very well looked to be the case. The Steelers scored early when Gerry Mullins recovered a fumble in the endzone, putting the Steelers up 7-0. From that point, the Steelers had all the momentum. Then, in the second quarter, Jack Ham intercepted the ball, which could have led to another Pittsburgh touchdown; however, Dwight White got flagged for jumping offsides. That flag essentially ended Pittsburgh’s bid to head to their first title game in league history. While the flag wiped out the interception, it still left the Dolphins in a fourth-down situation and had to punt the ball again. Larry Seiple, the Dolphins punter, caught the Steelers napping. Instead of punting, the Dolphins ran a fake punt. Not expecting it at all, Seiple scrambled fora first down, and the Dolphins had had the ball deep in Pittsburgh territory. A few plays later, the Dolphins tied the game.
Pittsburgh never had momentum after that. The Dolphins scored quickly in the third quarter and never looked back. While trying to rally, Bradshaw threw two interceptions, ending any hope of beating the undefeated Dolphins.
This play left fans in shock, thinking how the Steelers could allow the punter to run for 30 yards. Pittsburgh fans had not had a championship since the Steelers came into the league. They thought for sure they would wreck the Dolphins’ bid for a perfect season and finally win a title, especially given how they knocked off the Raiders the previous week.
This play is to Pittsburgh like what the Immaculate Reception is to the Raiders. Fans that remember it feel in some way that Don Shula cheated the Steelers and never really won the game fairly nor decisively. If the loss was not enough, adding insult to injury, Steelers fans also learned, on the same day, that Pirates star Roberto Clemente had died in a helicopter crash. Two years later, though, the Steelers fans were vindicated when the Steelers won their first title ever.