Pittsburgh Steelers legend Franco Harris died peacefully at his home on Tuesday. The NFL Hall of Famer and four-time Super Bowl champion was 72 years old. Harris caught the ‘Immaculate Reception” in 1972 and was to have his number retired during halftime of this week’s Steelers vs. Raiders game commemorating the famous play.
Franco Harris leaves behind a legacy for Steelers and NFL fans alike. He was one of the key pieces of the Steelers dynasty and was a great person off the field. So let’s take a moment to relive the legendary career of one of the all-time greats.
The Legend’s Career
Franco Harris was born in 1950 in New Jersey. He played his college football for Penn State. Harris was not the primary running back for the Nittany Lions but still recorded over 2,000 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns over the course of three seasons.
Harris was drafted with the 13th overall pick in the 1972 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The team was still trying to find an identity and build around the 1970 first-overall selection, Terry Bradshaw. In 1972, Harris rushed for 1,055 yards and ten touchdowns as he won NFL Rookie of the Year. The Steelers finished the year with an 11-3 record, which was Pittsburgh’s first winning season in nine years.
1972 was also the year of the “Immaculate Reception,” which occurred during a postseason game against the Raiders. Pittsburgh trailed 7-6 with 22 seconds to play when Harris caught a deflected pass going to the ground. He got the ball and ran for the endzone giving the Steelers their first-ever playoff win. The technology back then did not provide a clear view of the play, but the refs upheld the call despite the Raiders challenging it. The 50th anniversary of the play will be celebrated during halftime of the Christmas Eve game between the Steelers and Raiders.
Franco Harris failed to rush for more than 1,000 yards in 1973, which was the final time he missed that mark until 1980. The Pittsburgh Steelers won their first-ever Super Bowl in 1974 over the Vikings 16-6. Harris was named the Super Bowl MVP for his 158-yard performance in the low-scoring affair.
The Steelers won three more Super Bowls in the 1970s, with Franco Harris being a key contributor in each one. His 354 yards and four touchdowns in the four games are the second most in Super Bowl history. The four championships made Pittsburgh one of the league’s first dynasties. Pittsburgh won just two more Super Bowls after the 70s but is still the team with the most, tied with the Patriots at six.
Winning four Super Bowls was the highlight of Harris’ career, but he did even more. He was named the NFL Man of the Year in 1976 for his charitable actions in the Pittsburgh area. Harris was selected to nine Pro Bowls and is a part of the 1970s All-Decade team. The legendary running back was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990 and is also in the Pittsburgh Hall of Fame and Steelers Hall of Honor.
Franco Harris’ number 32 jersey is just the third number to be retired by the franchise. No Steeler has worn number 32 since Harris left the team, but his number will finally be officially retired on Christmas Eve this year. Number 70 (Ernie Stautner) and 75 (Joe Greene) are the only other jersey numbers retired by the team.
Life Outside Of Football
Franco Harris stayed active within his communityafter retiring from the sport. He spent the 1984 season with the Seahawks but came back to reside in the Pittsburgh area. Harris started a business designed to provide better nutrition for school students. He also was a part of a group that helped minority business owners.
Harris helped renovate community centers and donated game tickets. In addition, he helped close the educational gap in poorer neighborhoods by providing scholarship access and after-school programs. Harris was also a part of Pennsylvania’s political scene going on campaign tours with prominent candidates locally and state-wide.
Franco Harris will always be remembered for his excellence on the field but also for his post-playing career work. He leaves behind a legacy that many will attempt to replicate. Let’s never forget what Harris has done for the Pittsburgh Steelers and his local community.