How did Steelers Hall of Famer Franco Harris die?
The man who gave us the ‘Immaculate Reception’ will forever be remembered for not just his numbers, but his character both on and off the field.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and their fans lost a piece of themselves no doubt, with the news now confirming that one of their greatest ever players has passed away.
Steelers legend Franco Harris passes away at 72
According to comments from his son who gave no cause of death, Franco Harris, the Hall of Fame running back whose quick reaction gave us “The Immaculate Reception,” considered the most iconic play in NFL history, has died. He was 72. Sadly, Harris’ death comes just days before the 50th anniversary of the play that essentially ignited a transformation of the Steelers, taking them from minnows to one of the mightiest teams of the era. In addition, the sad news also comes days before the Steelers are set to retire his No. 32 jersey as well.
Franco Harris gave us the ‘Immaculate Reception’
During the 1970s, Harris was a key figure in what would become the Steelers dynasty, with his 12,120 yards and of course the four Super Bowl rings that he collected with the team. Yet, without doubt, the most iconic moment of all was during a last second hail mary from then quarterback Terry Bradshaw in a game against Oakland in 1972. With Steelers behind 7-6 and facing fourth-and-10 from their own 40 yard line and 22 seconds on the clock in the fourth quarter, Bradshaw scrambled back before throwing deep to running back French Fuqua. Fuqua took an immediate heavy hit which resulted in the ball popping up and toward the direction of Harris. In that moment almost everyone came to a stop except Harris who snatched the ball out of the air and proceeded to maraud toward the end zone. It was the Steelers’ first playoff win in their entire history and a moment that will go down in NFL history. “That play really represents our teams of the ‘70s,” Harris said after the “Immaculate Reception” was voted the greatest play in NFL history during the league’s 100th anniversary season in 2020.
Who was Franco Harris?
Born in Fort Dix, New Jersey, on March 7th, 1950, Harris played collegiately at Penn State, before the Steelers who at the time were in the last phases of a rebuild, decided to select him as the 13th overall pick 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,” Steelers Hall of Fame wide receiver Lynn Swann said of his frequent roommate on team road trips. To say Harris had an instant impact would be an understatement. He won the NFL’s Rookie to the Year award in 1972 after rushing for a then-team-rookie record 1,055 yards and 10 touchdowns, while the Steelers reached the postseason for just the second time in franchise history. Interestingly, he was also a hit among the city’s large Italian-American population, being the son of an African-American father and Italian mother. A modest man, Harris always maintained that he was simply part of the machine that was the Steelers.
“You see, during that era, each player brought their own little piece with them to make that wonderful decade happen,” Harris said during his Hall of Fame speech in 1990. “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.” Harris is survived by his wife Dana Dokmanovich and his son, Dok.