Steeler legend Franco Harris dies

Steeler legend Franco Harris dies
December 30
06:06 2022

Pittsburgh Steeler great Franco Harris died last week in his home in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. It has been reported that Harris died of natural causes at the age of 72, but no cause of death has been confirmed at the time this article was written. 

Harris’ death came just two days before the 50th anniversary of the “Immaculate Reception.” which is quite possibly the most famous play in the history of the NFL. That play also helped launch the Steeler dynasty of the 1970s.  Harris was also scheduled to have his No. 32 jersey retired by the team during a ceremony at halftime of their game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

“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,” said Steelers president Art Rooney II in a statement. “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. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Dana, his son Dok and his extended family at this time.”

Even though I am a diehard Washington Commanders fan, formerly known as the Redskins, I had a soft spot for the Steelers because my grandfather liked them so much, being that he was from Pennsylvania and they also beat the Dallas Cowboys in a Super Bowl. When I was just a young kid, my grandfather and dad taught me so much about the history of the game.  

I remember when I received the John Madden Football ’93 video game and they had some of the all-time great teams in the game. Back then, they didn’t have names for the players, just numbers. So, my dad would tell me how great players like Harris, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Mike Webster, L.C. Greenwood, Mean Joe Green, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert and Mel Blount really were.

My dad and I would sit for hours and play that game as he taught me more and more about the history of football. I remember that game had Miami ’72, Chicago ’85, New York ‘86 and several other teams. Because my father passed away when I was 17, those memories are very fond to me and hearing of Harris’ passing made me immediately think of my dad and how much he loved the game.

That was really my introduction to the history of the game of football and really piqued my interest in knowing more about the game and the great players of the past. Harris was definitely one of those players. He amassed over 12,000 yards rushing and scored 91 touchdowns and when he retired he was third all-time in yards. He won four Super Bowl rings with that great Steeler team of the ‘70s and the Immaculate Reception play is still regarded as one of, if not the best play, in NFL history.

“We are shocked and saddened to learn of the unexpected passing of Franco Harris,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a statement. “He meant so much to Steelers fans as the Hall of Fame running back who helped form the nucleus of the team’s dynasty of the ‘70s, but he was much more. He was a gentle soul who touched so many in the Pittsburgh community and throughout the entire NFL. Franco changed the way people thought of the Steelers, of Pittsburgh, and of the NFL. He will forever live in the hearts of Steelers fans everywhere, his teammates, and the City of Pittsburgh. Our condolences go out to his wife, Dana, and their son, Dok.”

Born in Fort Dix, New Jersey, on March 7, 1950, Harris was a 6-foot 2, 230-pound running back who played collegiately at Penn State. He was primarily a blocking back in college, but Hall of Fame Steelers coach Chuck Noll saw something in Harris and made him the 13th overall pick in the 1972 draft.  

Harris immediately paid dividends for the Steelers as he rushed for 1,055 yards and 10 touchdowns on his way to winning the NFL’s Rookie of the Year award in 1972. Harris never looked back. He would rush for at least 1,000 yards on eight separate occasions in Pittsburgh. He made nine Pro-Bowl teams, one All-Pro team, and was MVP of Super Bowl IX. Those accolades led him to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.

Harris is still one of the most popular Steeler players of all-time. From all accounts, he was an even better man off the field than the player he was on the field. I have heard several stories of how nice and generous Harris was. He was a very humble human being as well, never wanting to take the credit he rightfully deserved for his contributions to the Steelers organization.

“You see, during that era, each player brought their own little piece with them to make that wonderful decade happen,” Harris said in his Hall of Fame speech. “Each player had their strengths and weaknesses, each their own thinking, each their own method, just each, each had their own. But then it was amazing, it all came together, and it stayed together to forge the greatest team of all times.”

The passing of Harris is just another acknowledgement that my father’s generation of players are getting much older and the same will happen for me. I just am happy that I am still able to recall those fond memories of my childhood and Harris had something to do with that. 

Rest in peace, Franco. You will be remembered.

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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