Fri, 27 May 2022

An 'Immaculate' Golden Anniversary

The Steelers
14 May 2022, 06:30 GMT+10

Bob Labriola

It has been recognized as the greatest play in NFL history, and the game that contained it remains an iconic event in the history of Pittsburgh sports. Fifty years later, the Golden Anniversary celebration of the Immaculate Reception represents the crown jewel of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 regular season schedule.

It was on Dec. 23, 1972 that Franco Harris caught Terry Bradshaw's deflected pass out of the air and turned it into the 40-yard touchdown that provided the deciding points in the Steelers 13-7 victory over the Oakland Raiders for the first playoff win in franchise history. On Dec. 24, 2022, the Steelers will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the occasion with an 8:15 p.m. rematch with the Las Vegas Raiders, to be televised nationally by NFL Network.

"The game we asked for and we were hoping for was the game on Dec. 24," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "We weren't sure if they were going to give us the Raiders or not, but they slid the Raiders into that slot, so we're excited about that and excited to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception."

Because of the way the calendar falls in 2022, the NFL scheduled games on both Saturday, Dec. 24 and on Sunday Dec. 25. Rooney said the Steelers preferred Dec. 24 and made that request to the NFL right off the bat.

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"We're going to have some celebrations on Dec. 23, on the actual anniversary, and so we'll probably have some guys in from that 1972 team," said Rooney, "and we just felt it would work better to have those two days back-to-back."

The meeting with Las Vegas will be the eighth Christmas Eve game in franchise history, and the first since a 27-0 win over St. Louis in 2011 at Heinz Field. The Steelers are 4-3 overall on Christmas Eve, including 1-1 in Pittsburgh. In 2006 the Ravens defeated the Steelers, 31-7, on Dec. 24. What will be different about the 2022 game is that it will be the first Dec. 24 night game.

"It's something different, that's for sure," said Rooney. "The league has not scheduled Christmas Eve night in the past, so it will be a little bit different. Look, it's an honor to be playing in a game of that importance on that kind of a day, and hopefully it will work out well."

For the eighth straight season, the Steelers will open on the road, and in 2022 it will be on Sept. 11 in Cincinnati against the defending AFC North Champion Bengals. It will be the first time in franchise history that a Steelers season will begin with a game vs. the Bengals.

"We would like to open at home once in a while," said Rooney. "Some of that has to do with the Pirates schedule, and we don't have any control over that. I know there are some teams that open their schedule with two straight games on the road, and so we can't complain when we come home the next week. Our home opener will be against the New England Patriots, and I'm sure there will be a lot of interest in that game. It'll be a great home opener, even though it'll be the second game of the season."

It's certainly not a situation where the schedule will allow the Steelers to ease into the season. After a game against the AFC Champions, the Steelers face the Patriots, the Browns on a Thursday night, the Jets, the Bills in Buffalo, and Tampa Bay at Heinz Field.

"It's a tough opening game, over there in Cincinnati," said Rooney. "It's the first time I can remember in a long time, if ever, opening the season in Cincinnati. Then there are some tough road games right there at the beginning of the schedule, some strong AFC teams to start off the season. It'll present some challenges."

Once again, the Steelers opening schedule includes the full complement of five primetime games even though the team will be breaking in a new starting quarterback for the first time in a generation following the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger. In addition to the Thursday night in Cleveland and Christmas Eve night hosting the Raiders, the Steelers play two other Sunday night games - hosting the Bengals on Nov. 20 and visiting Miami on Oct. 23 - and they visit Indianapolis for a Monday night game on Nov. 28.

"We're lucky we have great fans and they're always interested in what we're doing no matter what kind of preseason predictions there might be for our team, and so we're always happy to have the primetime games. We do have back-to-back games just after the middle of the season, but otherwise they're spread out pretty well. And really the whole schedule is spread out nicely, where we don't have a long stretch of road games or anything like that. We only have two-in-a-row here and there, which you really can't complain about."

One new element to the 2022 NFL schedule is the league's partnership with Amazon Prime, and the league awarded its newest broadcast partner with a historic rivalry in Steelers vs. Browns.

"Certainly as a league we're happy to have Amazon as a partner, and as a partner that's going to be presenting the games," said Rooney, "so that will be something new and interesting. For them to be able to present Steelers at Browns, really one of our oldest rivalries, I'm sure they'll do a great job with it and it'll be great to kick off our relationship with Amazon by having that kind of a game on with them."

One unusual feature of this version of the schedule for the Steelers is that none of their games have been slotted for a 4:25 p.m. Sunday kickoff. Of course, the league allows the networks to flex games beginning with Week 5 (Oct. 9).

"The networks do like to have that flexibility to flex games, and some of these games could get flexed into different time slots," said Rooney. "We don't love that, but it is great for the networks to make sure they get the best games in the important time slots. It's just part of the way we have to be prepared to work now, and it's one of the things you have to manage and be light on your feet."

Rooney wanted fans to know there will be more than one special weekend as part of the 2022 schedule, and he also revealed the choice for the team's throwback jersey this season.

"We certainly will have our Alumni Weekend somewhere in the middle of the season, and then we'll have a Hall of Honor Weekend where we'll induct a new class," said Rooney. "We'll have the full complement of those games - our Salute to Service Game will be one of those games in November. Once we finalize all of these dates, we'll be announcing the things that make home game weekends particularly special."

And as for the throwback jersey, Rooney said, "We'll take a closer look at it , but right now I predict it'll be that Nov. 20 game against the Bengals. The throwback jersey will be a replica of the 1972 jersey. So, back to the Immaculate Reception."

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