Ben Ratner’s photo of StarTalk Playing with Science Hosts Chuck Nice and Gary O'Reilly in our studio.
Ben Ratner’s photo of StarTalk Playing with Science Hosts Chuck Nice and Gary O'Reilly in our studio.

The Immaculate Reception

StarTalk Playing with Science hosts Chuck Nice and Gary O'Reilly in our studio. Credit: Ben Ratner.

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About This Episode

Football fans have been arguing about the Immaculate Reception from the moment in the 1972 AFC Division Playoff that Franco Harris caught a deflected pass from Terry Bradshaw to score a touchdown, win the game, and begin both the Steeler dynasty and the infamous rivalry between Pittsburgh and Oakland – and between the Raiders and the rest of the world. This week on Playing with Science, hosts Gary O’Reilly and Chuck Nice attempt to settle the mystery of the most famous play in NFL history once and for all, using… physics. They’re joined by returning guest physicist John Eric Goff, sports writer Jim Brennan, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and NFL quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Join us as we break down the ball’s trajectory, speed, conservation of linear momentum, the mass of Frenchy Fuqua and Jack Tatum, and why physics professor John Fetkovich’s famous experiments may have missed a critical factor in their final analysis. Investigate whether the referees were even in position to determine whether the ball hit Fuqua or not. You’ll hear about the conspiracy theories surrounding a phone call to the press box and what might be the first use of a television replay to confirm a call, fourteen years before the NFL first adopted the instant replay. Ryan Fitzpatrick tells Neil about the role of luck in the play, while John Eric Goff explains that luck is just the word we use to describe a low probability occurrence. Neil shares his own theory of what luck is, why the dearth of probability and statistics education in grades K-12 leads to a widespread belief in luck and robust lottery ticket sales, and the role confirmation bias has played in public opinion about the legendary play.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can watch or listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: The Immaculate Reception.

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