Sports Illustrated has put out a piece on the “Biggest gut-punch loss” for each and every franchise, the Raiders included.
The game that the author the piece, Doug Farrar, picked is a rather obvious one – the 1972 playoff loss to the Steelers that included the most famous play in NFL history – “The Immaculate Reception.”
Oakland Raiders: Dec. 23, 1972, AFC divisional round—Steelers 13, Raiders 7
The Raiders of the late 1960s and early 1970s were the AFL’s and AFC’s version of the Cowboys: the team that was always great, but could never quite win the mythical big one. The 1972 Steelers were just happy to be in the first playoff game in a 40-year history that featured far more failures than successes. The Raiders had a 7–6 lead with time running out in this divisional playoff in Pittsburgh when Terry Bradshaw threw a pass to running back John Fuqua over the middle of the field. The pass either hit Fuqua or Raiders safety Jack Tatum—nobody is really sure—and fell into the hands of Franco Harris, who ran the ball in for a 60-yard touchdown.
The question was, who touched the ball last? If it was Fuqua, the catch was not a catch. If it was Tatum, or Fuqua and Tatum consecutively, it was.
After the play, referee Fred Swearingen got on the phone with Art McNally, the league’s head of officiating. Depending on who you ask, Swearingen was either trying to confirm the catch call with McNally, or asking how many policemen would be able to escort his crew off the field if he ruled based on what really happened. To this day, it’s a mystery, and it’s the one game Raiders head coach John Madden will never get over.
The 2001 playoff loss in New England, the game that forever was remembered for the ‘tuck rule’ can also be added to the list as well.