Atkinson recalls Immaculate Deception
There’s a line near the end of the movie, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence” that goes, “When the legend becomes truth – print the legend.”
When it comes to what many consider to be the most famous – or infamous play depending on how you look at it – in NFL history, it could be difficult to separate the legend from truth. Not for George Atkinson.
The former Oakland Raider great was in town on Tuesday, visiting the Carson City Raider Booster Club. Atkinson is a host for the Raiders show, “Behind the Shield,” and Atkinson and the show’s personnel have been traveling all over, visiting Raider Booster Clubs.
Atkinson has volunteered his time to travel to all the booster clubs – he’s not being paid a dime. All of the booster clubs, including Carson City’s, will be feature in a three-part series on “Behind the Shield” when the season begins on the weekend of Sept. 11. The shows are scheduled to be televised by Reno’s Channel 7.
To Atkinson, a former Raider great at safety, the “Immaculate Reception” is actually the “Immaculate Deception.” Atkinson, who was on the field at Three Rivers Stadium at the time, remembers the play during the 1972 NFL playoff game between the Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” he said.
The Raiders were leading the Steelers 7-6 when Pittsburgh had one more play for a desperation pass. Terry Bradshaw launched a pass over the middle toward Frenchy Fuqua.
A tremdous collision caused by Raider safety Jack Tatum ensued and the ball went flying – off of Fuqua as Atkinson and many others claim – which was illegal at the time. Franco Harris scooped the ball up – there’s a question on if Harris actually caught the ball, but not in the mind of Atkinson – and ran into the end zone.
As the officials gathered, the question was supposedly asked how much security was there. “Not enough,” was the reply. Touchdown was the decision. Steelers 13, Raiders 7. “That actually happened, trust me,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson talked about how the Raiders’ reputation cost them with the officials. “We got jobbed more than the mayor bought votes,” said Atkinson, joking with Carson City Mayor and Raider Booster Club member Ray Masayko, who was in attendance.
Since 1968, Atkinson has been a member of the Raider organization as a 20-year-old rookie. He’s also been part of the Arena Football League’s San Jose Sabercats organization, who has won the Arena Bowl two of the past three years, including this year. But Atkinson’s first love will always be the Raiders. “If I had to live my life all over again, I would come back as a Raider,” he said.
With Tatum, Atkinson formed arguably the most intimidating safety tandem in NFL history.
“When you’re reputation holds up over time, it tells you how you were pretty decent,” Atkinson said. “We enjoyed playing with each other. We knew when they came over the middle, they were going to pay for it.”
Atkinson was also part of the 1976 Raiders team that finally broke through for the organization’s first world championship when it routed the Minnesota Vikings 32-14. The success of Oakland’s two professional teams in the 1970s – the Athletics and Raiders – and the relationship they had with the community were chronicled in a recent HBO special. “I thought it was a good show,” Atkinson said. “It was entertaining.”
It was also entertaining to be around the Raiders when Atkinson played. Atkinson shared some of the stories including one about a player who wanted to break curfew during training camp.
In attempt to fool the coach when he did a spot check, the player placed a light under the covers on his bed, but left it plugged in. When the coached flipped the switch, “The whole bed lit up,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson also shared during practice once, former Raider linebacker great Ted Hendricks showed up on a white horse with a naked woman aboard. All Coach John Madded could do was say, “Hey, practice is over,” Atkinson said.
He also remembered a large defensive lineman who was wearing a heavy coat when he stepped on the scale for the weigh-in. When he was told the coat was too heavy and he had to take it off, he stepped back on the scale – with the coat under his arm.
Atkinson also talked about his upmost respect for Raiders owner Al Davis. He talked about attending Davis’ birthday party in which Davis paid all the expenses for the 150 who attended.
He also gave every guest a piece of crystal with the words “loyalty, passion, friendship.” “That’s the kind of guy Al Davis is,” Atkinson said.
Contact Charles Whisnand at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1214.