Using Math to Make a Decision

SPORTS LEGEND: The head referee asked about the size of his security detail before making a decision on a crucial play that would affect the home crowd in Pittsburgh.

I discussed earlier today the so-called “Immaculate Reception,” the stunning touchdown scored by Pittsburgh Steeler Franco Harris after a pass intended for his teammate John Fuqua was broken up by Oakland Raider defender Jack Tatum, only for the ball to bounce off of Tatum and land in Harris’ hands as he ran in for the touchdown.

Here, again, is the replay of the play…

After the play was initially ruled a touchdown by the Back Judge (whose only call there is whether the player entered the end zone with the ball in bounds), jubilant Pittsburgh fans rushed on to the field.

However, the Back Judge was not the one who was going to call the crucial part of the play – who did the ball hit off of last before Harris picked it up? Due to a rule at the time, two offensive players can’t touch a forward pass in a row. So if Fuqua was the last person to come into contact with the ball before Harris, then the play wouldn’t count. If Tatum was the last person to come into contact with the ball before Harris, the touchdown would stand.

The fans were pushed off of the field and a decision had to be made.

As the story goes, the man who had to make the decision, Head Referee Fred Swearington supposedly asked how many police officers were on duty to act as security to escort the officials out of the stadium if they ruled against Pittsburgh. When he was informed that the number was six, he raised his arms in the air and said “that’s six for Pittsburgh” (indicating that the touchdown counted).

It’s a really funny story, but it’s also just that, a story.

It was created by Oakland Raider executive LoCasale, who first told it at an offseason banquet that offseason.

It has since entered the public consciousness as actually having happened.

That said, it is true enough that you can’t totally rule out the effect of the crowd on an official in a close spot like this. So who’s to say that the crowd did NOT have some effect upon Fred Swearington’s decision? I sure can’t tell you for sure that it didn’t.

I can just tell you that the oft-repeated tale about him asking about security and then making the call based on the reply is….


Thanks to Tom Lamarre’s Stadium Stories: Oakland Raiders: Colorful Tales of the Silver and Black for the debunking. And thanks to bret3d for the clip!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is

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