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A Clarification on the Immaculate Reception (and Conception)

In the “Immaculate Reception” documentary that premiered last night on the NFL Network, I was called upon to discuss the religious provenance of the play’s name. Here’s what I say in the program:

People thought it was about the Virgin Birth. It wasn’t about Jesus. It was about the Immaculate Conception, where Mary is visited by an Angel of God and therefore becomes pregnant without having been touched by sin.

So I started out on the right track, by clarifying that the Immaculate Conception is a different event than the Virgin Birth, that it refers to the conception of Mary, not of Jesus. But then the explanation gets garbled as I plainly misspoke — said “Mary” instead of “Mary’s mother,” or “Anne.”

I’ve already heard from several viewers, and I apologize for the error and the confusion. I will talk to the producers about perhaps getting it straightened out. I guess that’s why I prefer writing to talking — you can plainly see your errors and fix them before they become real!

As I wrote in Confessions of a Hero-Worshiper, my book about Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception was something of a Dubner family holiday:

When [my father] met my mother, he treated her as Mary incarnate: flawless, precious, divine. He wrote poems comparing her virtues to Mary’s (which embarrassed my mother, and thrilled her). After the war, having bought a diamond solitaire with his mustering-out pay, he carefully chose the holy day on which he would propose marriage: the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

I also wrote about how the name of Franco’s catch was often misconstrued — i.e., I tried to clear up the very misperception that I wound up repeating in last night’s program:

The Immaculate Reception was by now a divine touchstone. Although the Steelers didn’t reach the Super Bowl that season, they began winning it repeatedly only two years later. In Pittsburgh, it was an article of faith that the Immaculate Reception had triggered all that victory. 

And yet as I’d later learn from Father John Marcucci, the priest who used to wear a Steelers stole and deliver football sermons, many people confused the dogma for which the play was named.

“They hear ‘Immaculate Conception’ and they think of the Virgin Birth,” he said. “But the Immaculate Conception doesn’t have anything to do with Jesus—it’s that when Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother, the stain of original sin did not touch her. That was God’s big deal with the Immaculate Conception. And, see, the big deal about the Immaculate Reception is that Frenchy Fuqua didn’t touch the ball. So it’s Mary not touched by sin and this football not touched by Frenchy Fuqua.”

And Franco, I asked Father Marcucci: What does that make Franco?

“Ah,” he said. “Franco was God’s winged messenger.”