As the NFL prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the “immaculate reception”; one of the players who made the play possible has died. On December 21, 2022; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris died at the age of 72. Harris’ son Dok stated that his father had died overnight but an official cause of death was not given. Harris had been giving interviews about the historic play just two days before his death.
Quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw the ball and the 22 year old rookie running back Franco Harris ran to make a one handed catch in a never before seen feat. Fifty years later the Pittsburgh Steelers will be retiring Harris’ number 32 during the game on Saturday against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II spoke on Harris via a statement saying, “it is difficult to find the appropriate words to describe Franco Harris’ impact on the Pittsburgh Steelers, his teammates, the City of Pittsburgh and Steelers Nation. From his rookie season, which included the Immaculate Reception, through the next 50 years, Franco brought joy to people on and off the field. He never stopped giving back in so many ways. He touched so many, and he was loved by so many.”
Franco Harris was a member of the Steel Curtain and was a part of the four Super Bowl winning Steelers dynasty playing for Chuck Noll. During his career had ran for 12,120 yards with eight season of over 1,000 yards.
Current Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin spoke on Harris saying, “I just admire and love the man. There’s so much to be learned from him in terms of how he conducted himself, how he embraced the responsibilities of being Franco for Steeler Nation, for this community … He embraced it all and did it with such grace and class and patience and time for people.”
The Immaculate Reception:
Pittsburgh was trailing 7-6 and facing fourth-and-10 from its own 40-yard line and 22 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Bradshaw drifted back and threw deep to running back Frenchy Fuqua. Fuqua and Oakland defensive back Jack Tatum collided, sending the ball careening back toward midfield in the direction of Harris. Game officials weren’t sure who deflected the pass; replays were inconclusive. While nearly everyone else on the field stopped, Harris kept his legs churning, snatching the ball just inches above the turf near the Oakland 45, then outracing several stunned Raider defenders to give the Steelers their first playoff victory some four decades after founder Art Rooney Sr. brought the still-fledgling NFL to western Pennsylvania.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Franco Harris played at Three Rivers Stadium. Today it is a parking lot but the spot where Harris caught the ball is clearly marked.
Franco Dok Harris was born March 7, 1950 in Fort Dix, New Jersey the son of an African American father and an Italian mother. He went on to attend college at Penn State University. After being drafted by the Steelers in the first round, Harris went on to win Rookie of the Year in his first year in the NFL. The Italian community in Pittsburgh embraced Harris; calling themselves the Franco’s Italian Army. He was teammates with Steelers standouts “Mean Joe” Green, Len Swann, Jack Lambert, and Terry Bradshaw.
After football, Harris remained in the Pittsburgh area where he opened a bakery and worked on a number of charitable causes.
He is survived by his wife Dana and son Dok.
Feature photo credit: Franco Harris 2022.jpg