For 36 years, John "Frenchy" Fuqua (right) held the Pittsburgh Steelers single-game rushing record with a 218-yard effort against the Philadelphia Eagles before it was broken in 2006. But for 40 years he's held on to a secret which he will not break coveneant: what really happened during the Immaculate Reception.
But he talks plenty about the play itself, as he did Saturday at the Heinz History Center for the opening of the Gridiron Glory exhibition, which, among other artifacts, publicly displays the ball from that play for the first time ever, offering Fuqua his first chance to touch it -- or maybe the second.Q: You’re so closely associated with the Immaculate Reception to the point that it completely overshadows a really productive career that you had with the Steelers. What do you consider to be your greatest moment with the team?
FUQUA: Definitely the Immaculate Reception – It’s lasted forty years, which lets me know that I’m a senior citizen [laughs]. But to hear people talk about it, 40 years later the way they do, it lets me know that there is a signature, a comma, a period to my career. It’s going to last forever. So I’m proud of it, to have been a part of it, its something that I love talking about, and it shows that the Frenchman can keep a secret.
Q: You were the intended receiver on the play – what would you have done if you’d actually caught it?
FUQUA: I’d have been a hero! What was supposed to happen was I was supposed to catch the ball and get out of bounds. Then the pressure would’ve been on [kicker Roy] Gerela. But I often think about that ... suppose I’d have caught it, suppose I would’ve ran it in – a lot of things would’ve happened: No. 1. There wouldn’t have been an Immaculate Reception. But we had a great team and great individuals. It was meant for us to win that game. I don’t think if I’d have caught the ball, or if I hadn’t have caught the ball – it was meant for us to win that game. A lot of people say – especially out in Oakland – that I touched the ball. They don’t know.
Q: The play has stood the test of time because it of the mystery surrounding it. Do you think it if it happened today -- with the hyper-coverage of the NFL and a million camera angles -- it would be as big of a deal?
FUQUA: I can tell you this here from the bottom of my heart, what happened on that play was truly Immaculate. It had to be, because of 40 years. I have a cliché: I’ll never tell. I’m quite sure you’ve seen it a hundred times yourself; I’ve seen it in slow motion frame-by-frame – you would have had to be Frenchy Fuqua to know what happened. I’m so proud of Frenchy Fuqua – who has the big mouth – I’m so proud of myself for knowing that I can keep a secret. I will carry it to the grave with me.
Q: You were also famously known for your loud outfits – which was your favorite, and do you ever pull them out?
FUQUA: I can’t get in much of it anymore, but I think it had to be my count outfit – skin-tight lavender jumpsuit pink cow belt with silver studs in it, glass cane musketeer hat with three plumes in it, and my white gloves and my buccaneer boots. I had an opportunity to walk on water – but only one man could really do that – my fish always died. I got 80 pieces of mail in reference to that, I took it to [Steelers p.r. man] Joe Gordon and said Joe – I’m getting hate mail! – he said, ‘keep it up, Frenchy.’