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Steelers Finder on the web: Immaculate reception was their baby...

Tuesday, December 26, 2000

By Chuck Finder, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Twenty-eight years have passed since they sat side by side in a tavern near Grant Street and poured not only libations but a foundation for a football eternity.


Twenty years have passed since they last spoke, these two ordinary people who anonymously made an enduring contribution to Pittsburgh sports lore.

They conceived the Immaculate Reception name, did Michael Ord and Sharon Levosky. They christened it, introduced it to Myron Cope, sent it on its merry way to national celebrity. Before them, the Dec. 23, 1972 event they witnessed from the Three Rivers Stadium upper deck was a monumental catch without a memorable moniker. After them, it held a permanent eminence and an everlasting symbolism for the Steelers' franchise, the now-closed stadium, the entire NFL.

So here they sat last week, side by side again in a tavern near Grant Street, reunited.

Twenty years melted like ice in an empty tumbler.

Twenty-eight years.

"We used to go to the airport and welcome the team back," Ord began.

"Oh, yeah," Levosky added.

"You remember the Reverend?"

"Reverend Myers."



"Nice guy. Used to sit behind us, Section 653, Three Rivers."

"The church is no longer there, Highland Park Presbyterian."

So many things have changed since then. So much has passed.

She pulled out a yellowing photograph of the two of them, circa 1970. She glanced at it through her dark-rimmed glasses, her countenance a portrait of stoicism inside a short, blonde frame, and she handed the picture to him. He perched a pair of pince-nez reading glasses in the middle of his round, cherubic face, and he seemed surprised to look back in time, long before the graying hair. They were an attractive couple back then. Neither, it should be noted, wore glasses.

Their story all started in a simple leather shop on Walnut Street, Shadyside. Ord was the owner. Levosky was an employee. They began dating. One of their weekly rituals was the fall Sunday get-together at the brand-new bowl on the North Side, tailgating and a Steelers game followed by a tavern stop near Grant Street -- the Executive Place, the Beau Brummel or the Interlude on old Court Place.

"Where the U.S. Steel Building is now," Ord began.

"USX Tower," corrected Levosky, who works there.

Among his nearly 10 Steelers season-ticket seats in the early 1970s, Ord used to take his girlfriend/employee, his father, Barney, and a bunch of friends to games. He still visualizes the amazing play that buried the Same Old Steelers and gave rise to Super Steelers of the 1970s, Terry Bradshaw to Jack Tatum/Frenchy Fuqua to Franco Harris to history.

"We were right at the 50. They were perfect seats. Everybody was standing. When the ball bounced off whoever it bounced off of, my father sat down and put his face in his hands. I'm sure a lot of people didn't see the play, they probably all reacted like my dad: The miracle season was over. Then, he heard everybody cheering, and he asked, 'What happened? What happened?' "

Hours later, at the Interlude, inspiration struck Ord like those Catholic-school nuns who used to rap his knuckles " 'cause I wrote with my left hand, and that's the devil's hand." He arose from his seat beside Levosky, stood on his chair and announced to the crowded second-floor bar: From here on, this day will forever be known as The Feast of the Immaculate Reception. The bar crowd rejoiced.

Hours after that, the couple repaired to the home of Levosky's parents in Highland Park. They wanted to share their Interlude-induced appellation with a Steelers Nation. They thought of relating it to the Steelers' colorful commentator and WTAE-TV sportscaster, but the thought didn't completely register until about 11 p.m. -- the start of the station's newscast.

"I remember thinking, 'We really should tell Myron,' " Ord began.

"And I remember thinking, 'We're not going to get through,' " Levosky added.

It being the care-free 1970s, and it being such a sure-fire nickname, both persisted. He wanted to make the call, but he considered himself "overserved" and worried about slurring his words. No, the public never would have embraced it so tightly if Cope had translated the nickname as the Amalgamated Resurrection. So Levosky dialed and did the speaking instead.

She identified herself to the television-station switchboard as Sharon Levosky of MARC Advertising, which, at that point, she was. Next thing she knew, Cope's trademark warble was at the other end of the rotary phone. "I couldn't believe it," she recalled. "When I told him 'The Immaculate Reception,' he was laughing.

" 'I can't say that on TV,' he said.

"I said, 'Sure you can.'

"He said, 'I'll have to think about it.' "

Five minutes later, the diminutive Jewish sportscaster was on TV screens across Western Pennsylvania mentioning her name, the play's nickname, and what a good Christian girl she was -- as if this made the religious reference, well, kosher.

"He said he asked her if she was Christian," Ord began.

"He did not," add Levosky, who is Presbyterian. "He didn't know if I was Jewish or what."

Funny, but all her teachers figured Levosky for a Jewish name and always wondered why she came to school on the High Holy Days.

Double Yoi.

"The next day, I got up, and it was everywhere," Ord began. "In the newspapers, on the TV. It hit the wires. It was instant success. It was incredible. We were featured in Time Magazine, I think."

"Sports Illustrated," corrected Levosky.

"Anyway, in that story, Sharon didn't even mention me. Maybe she was mad at me. Were you mad at me?"


Harris got a patent on the name, Franco's Immaculate Reception. The leather-store owner sold his business to go into the car and publication businesses, the leather-store employee went into advertising, and neither of the originators earned a penny off the Interlude inspiration.

"There was never any idea to make money on it," Ord said. "It just happened. I mean, I did get to meet Danny Rooney and his wife, and I got to know Myron and some of the players. That was nice. But what are you going to do? You got to go out and work."

"Just watching the tribute to Three Rivers last week at the end of the game and hearing it again ... it's always a kick," Levosky added.

Ord and Levosky drifted apart by the 1980s. She stayed near her Highland Park roots, and he moved from Point Breeze to the North Hills. He gave up his Steelers season tickets. He married. Time passed. Before long, there came the celebration of the Immaculate Reception's 25th anniversary. He was invited to the banquet at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in 1997, but he would only appear for a short time. You see, his wife, Patty Shabla, was in the end stages of cancer.

Tunch Ilkin introduced Ord and Cope to the banquet crowd, "we did our little schtick, and I got home." A week and a half later, the cancer consumed his wife. A month and a half after that, his employer sold the business and handed Ord a severance check, remarking that his services were no longer required because he missed too much work tending to his dying wife.

Levosky is an account supervisor with Market Place Print, Inc., a subsidiary of MARC Advertising. Ord is president of an internet company he helped to start, A Curb Above Productions. They didn't talk for a generation until I found Levosky and asked if a reunion was possible. She uncovered a phone number for Ord, and they talked on the phone for an entire football game.

If I delivered no other gifts this Christmas, at least I could feel good about uniting them back at a Downtown tavern table, side by side.

"In this enlightened age, you can pull up all the information you want on the internet about the Immaculate Reception," Ord began. He looked at the handsome blonde woman sitting to his right. He smiled. "We live on."

You can reach Chuck Finder at cfinder@post-gazette.com

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