Franco Harris, a former running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, passed away. He was 72.
Just a few days before the Steelers’ “Immaculate Reception” 50th anniversary celebration, Harris passed away. On December 23, 1972, against the Raiders, Harris produced one of the most memorable plays in NFL history when he swooped in and intercepted a pass intended for John Fuqua from Terry Bradshaw before it reached the ground.
With a few seconds remained in the fourth quarter, Harris recovered the ball and scored the game-winning touchdown by running it in. The Steelers defeated the Miami Dolphins in the AFC championship game despite winning the divisional playoff game 13-7.
Dok Harris, Harris’ son, told the Associated Press that his father had passed away overnight and that there was no immediate information on the cause of death.
The Steelers will recognize Harris’ performance at halftime of their game against the Raiders on Saturday night in Pittsburgh. The organization intends to retire Harris’ recognizable No. 32 as well.
Franco Harris Career Since 1970
As a rookie, Harris’ spectacular performance cemented his place in Steelers history. In his debut season with the team in 1972, he ran for 1,055 yards on 188 occasions over the course of 14 games, but nobody really recalls his running yards or his 10 rushing touchdowns from that year.
Harris then ran for more over 1,000 yards in Pittsburgh in seven of his subsequent 11 seasons. As a rookie in 1972, he gained 5.6 yards per carry, and in 1976, he set a league record with 14 running touchdowns. Harris concluded his career with 12,120 running yards and 91 touchdowns after spending 12 years in Pittsburgh and one season in Seattle. In 1990, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Harris played for Penn State before being taken by the Steelers with the 13th overall choice in the 1972 NFL Draft. In each of his three seasons on the field for the Nittany Lions, Harris ran for more than 600 yards and totaled 25 touchdowns while partnering with Lydell Mitchell in the backfield.
After selecting Harris 13rd overall in the NFL draft, the Steelers finished the year 11-3. The Steelers finished 1-13 in Chuck Noll’s first season as head coach in 1969, their lowest point since a 7-4-3 performance in 1963. This was Pittsburgh’s first winning season since that year and their third straight year of progress.
The Steelers’ 1970s transformation began with that 11-3 season, which served as a template. The Steelers went 10-4 the next season until the Raiders exacted revenge in a 33-14 divisional playoff game a day before the first anniversary of Harris’ catch after losing to that legendary Dolphins squad in the AFC championship game.
The Raiders’ rushing assault featured Harris as its focal point, and the Steelers went on to claim four of the following six Super Bowl championships. In January 1975, the Steelers defeated the Vikings 16–6 to win Super Bowl IX. In Super Bowl X, they defeated the Dallas Cowboys 21–17. In the victory over the Vikings, Harris carried the ball 34 times for 158 yards and six rushing touchdowns.
The Steelers finished their 1970s Super Bowl run with a 31-19 victory over the Los Angeles Rams, following another victory over the Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII.
With the Steelers, Harris participated in 19 postseason games and finished with 400 carries for 1,556 yards, 16 running touchdowns, and one receiving touchdown versus the Raiders. When Harris was on the field, the Steelers went 14-5 in the postseason.
Only eight losing seasons and two further Super Bowl victories have occurred for the Steelers since that game following their victory in 1979. With a 6-8 record going into their game on Saturday, the Steelers must win out to prevent having Mike Tomlin’s team post a losing record.