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Steelers Legend Franco Harris Dies Overnight, 2 Days Before the 50th Anniversary of His Most Famous Play

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Franco Harris, the Hall of Fame running back whose quick thinking led to “The Immaculate Reception,” the most famous play in NFL history, has passed away. He was 72.

Dok Harris informed the Associated Press that his father died overnight. There was no cause of death listed.

His death occurs two days before the 50th anniversary of the play that catapulted the Steelers into the NFL’s top and three days before the Steelers are slated to honor his number 32 during a ceremony at halftime of their game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Harris rushed for 12,120 yards and earned four Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s. The Steelers’ dynasty began in earnest when Harris elected to keep going during Terry Bradshaw’s last-second pass versus Oakland in 1972.

Bradshaw launched a deep pass to running back French Fuqua with 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter with the Steelers down 7-6 and facing a fourth-and-10 from their own 40-yard line. Fuqua and Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders defensive backs collided, pushing the ball back toward midfield in the direction of Harris.

While practically everyone else on the field froze, Harris kept his legs moving, scooping the ball inches above the Three Rivers Stadium ground around the Oakland 45-yard line, then outracing several startled Raider defenders to give the Steelers their first playoff victory in the team’s four-decade history.

The “Immaculate Reception” was chosen the greatest play in NFL history during the league’s 100th anniversary season in 2020. “That play really represents our teams of the ’70s,”  Harris stated.

Despite losing the AFC Championship the following week to Miami, the Steelers were on their way to being the dominant team of the 1970s, winning back-to-back Super Bowls after the 1974 and 1975 seasons and again after the 1978 and 1979 seasons.

Harris, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Penn State powerhouse, found himself in the middle of everything. In Pittsburgh’s 16-6 victory over Minnesota in Super Bowl IX, he rushed for a then-record 158 yards and scored a touchdown on route to earning the game’s Most Valuable Player title. In three of the four Super Bowls he participated in, he scored at least one touchdown, and his 354 career running yards on the NFL’s grandest stage remain a record over four decades after his departure.

Born on March 7, 1950, in Fort Dix, New Jersey, Harris played college football at Penn State, where his major responsibility was to create openings for backfield partner Lydell Mitchell. In the last phases of a reconstruction headed by Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll, the Pittsburgh Steelers deemed Harris worthy of the thirteenth overall choice in the 1972 NFL Draft.

“When [Noll] drafted Franco Harris, he gave the offense heart, he gave it discipline, he gave it desire, he gave it the ability to win a championship in Pittsburgh,” said Lynn Swann, Steelers Hall of Fame wide receiver and frequent roommate on team road trips.

The effect of Harris was instantaneous. In 1972, he received the NFL’s Rookie of the Year award after running for a then-team rookie record 1,055 yards and 10 touchdowns while leading the Steelers to their second-ever postseason appearance.

More on this story via The Western Journal:

The city’s large Italian-American population embraced Harris immediately, led by two local businessmen who founded what became known as “Franco’s Italian Army,” a nod to Harris’ roots as the son of an African-American father and an Italian mother. CONTINUE READING…

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