Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

GEORGE ATKINSON RAIDERS CORNERBACK MAINTAINS FAMOUS PLAY IS MEMORABLE MORE AS A BAD CALL THAN A MIRACULOUS FEAT Series: IMMACULATE RECEPTION: THE PLAY THAT CHANGED A CITY

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

GEORGE ATKINSON RAIDERS CORNERBACK MAINTAINS FAMOUS PLAY IS MEMORABLE MORE AS A BAD CALL THAN A MIRACULOUS FEAT Series: IMMACULATE RECEPTION: THE PLAY THAT CHANGED A CITY

Article excerpt

George Atkinson was one of the more notorious members of the Oakland Raiders, a tough, hard-hitting, bend-the-rules cornerback who found himself right in the middle of the rivalry with the Steelers. And, as a result, in the middle of a courtroom.

Atkinson was one of the players former coach Chuck Noll referred to as the "criminal element" after a 1976 game in which Atkinson delivered a forearm to the head of Hall of Fame wide receiver Lynn Swann behind the play. The hit gave Swann a concussion and caused him to miss two games.

Atkinson filed a $2 million slander suit against Noll and the Steelers because of the remark, and the ugly 10-day jury trial caused great embarrassment for all parties, including the National Football League. The jurors ruled against Atkinson.

Atkinson probably felt just as helpless that December 1972 day in Three Rivers Stadium when he could do little to prevent what may be the most memorable play in the NFL.

He was on the other side of the field at Three Rivers Stadium, part of a three-deep zone coverage when, in his opinion, he saw the ball deflect off Frenchy Fuqua after a hard hit by safety Jack Tatum into the hands of Franco Harris.

"It was heartbreaking to us because I remember being in the huddle and the last thing we said was, 'It's fourth down, even if the receiver catches it, make sure we make the tackle,'" Atkinson said.

"We even brought in six defensive backs. We brought in a package we never used before and we set Jack Tatum in the middle of the field, right behind the linebackers, as a true free player to look for anything coming over the middle. The middle was his. Sure enough, as the play broke down, we got all his receivers covered.

"[Terry] Bradshaw was almost tackled by Tony Cline or Art Thoms, I'm not sure, and I remember looking back to where the ball was going downfield. Next thing I know Franco is running with the ball and I'm thinking the game is over. …

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