Franco Harris, legendary Steelers operating again who caught ‘The Immaculate Reception,’ dies at 72

Franco Harris, a Corridor of Fame operating again for the Pittsburgh Steelers identified for one of the vital well-known performs in American soccer historical past and regarded one of many NFL’s most iconic athletes, has died. He was 72.

Harris’ son Dok instructed The Related Press his father handed away in a single day. The reason for loss of life was not instantly clear.

His loss of life comes two days earlier than the fiftieth anniversary of the play that supplied the jolt that helped rework the Steelers from also-rans into the NFL’s elite and three days earlier than Pittsburgh is scheduled to retire his No. 32 throughout a ceremony at halftime of its sport towards the Las Vegas Raiders.

Franco Harris in 1973.Harry Cabluck / AP

On Friday, the NFL Community is scheduled to air a profile of Harris at 9 p.m. jap time, that includes interviews with Harris and a number of other former teammates, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the play, the NFL introduced Tuesday, seemingly earlier than his loss of life.

Representatives for the NFL and the Steelers didn’t instantly reply to requests for remark from NBC Information.

In a press release Wednesday morning, Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame president Jim Porter referred to as Harris “an unimaginable soccer participant, an unimaginable ambassador to the Corridor and, most significantly, we’ve got misplaced one of many most interesting gents anybody will ever meet.”

“Franco not solely impacted the sport of soccer, however he additionally affected the lives of many, many individuals in profoundly optimistic methods,” Porter mentioned.

‘The timing was simply immaculate’

Harris’ 13-season profession was outlined by standout achievements, together with turning into solely the fourth rookie within the NFL to hurry for 1,000 yards and scoring 100 complete touchdowns. He performed in 9 Professional Bowls, 5 AFC championships and 4 Tremendous Bowls.

Franco Harris,Jimmy Warren
Franco Harris eludes a sort out by Oakland Raiders’ Jimmy Warren throughout an AFC Divisional playoff sport in Pittsburgh, on Dec. 23, 1972. Harry Cabluck / AP

His well-known play — which got here to be generally known as the “Immaculate Reception” and helped reworked the Steelers into NFL elite — unfolded when Harris determined to maintain operating throughout a last-second heave by Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw in a playoff sport towards Oakland in 1972.

With Pittsburgh trailing 7-6 and going through fourth-and-10 from their very own 40 yard line and 22 seconds remaining within the fourth quarter, Bradshaw drifted again and threw deep to operating again French Fuqua. Fuqua and Oakland defensive again Jack Tatum collided, sending the ball careening again towards midfield within the path of Harris.

Whereas practically everybody else on the sphere stopped, Harris stored operating, snatching the ball simply inches above the Three Rivers Stadium turf close to the Oakland 45 then outracing a number of surprised Raider defenders to offer the Steelers their first playoff victory within the franchise’s four-decade historical past.

“If I used to be one step later, if I used to be one step sooner, it by no means would have occurred. The timing was simply immaculate,” Harris mentioned of the play within the upcoming NFL Community program.

“That play actually represents our groups of the ’70s,” he mentioned after the “Immaculate Reception” was voted the best play in NFL historical past through the league’s one hundredth anniversary season in 2020.

Whereas the Steelers fell the subsequent week to Miami within the AFC Championship, Pittsburgh was on its method to turning into the dominant staff of the Nineteen Seventies, twice profitable back-to-back Tremendous Bowls, first after the 1974 and 1975 seasons and once more after the 1978 and 1979 seasons.

‘The guts and soul of our staff’

Regardless of his accomplishments, Harris insisted that “a participant shouldn’t be measured by statistics alone. He needs to be measured by one thing extra particular, such because the sharing of teammates and followers,” in keeping with the Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame, to which he was elected in 1990.

“Franco was the guts and soul of our staff,” Steelers Corridor of Fame defensive sort out Joe Greene mentioned within the upcoming NFL Community program. “When Franco arrived, we grew to become the Pittsburgh Steelers.”

Former teammate Mel Blount, a Corridor of Fame Steelers cornerback, described Harris’ operating fashion as “poetry in movement.”

“He had so many alternative types of operating, like a very good musician,” Blount mentioned within the NFL Community program. “He can be operating and it’d seem like a piano participant, however then when he hit the road it’d sound like a drum.”

When he was inducted into Corridor of Fame, Harris referred to as his teammates “males of character, with a whole lot of coronary heart and soul.”

“That is the staff that I belonged to, a staff that may reside endlessly,” he added on the time.

‘I am nonetheless black and gold’

Born in Fort Dix, New Jersey, on March 7, 1950, Harris performed collegiately at Penn State, the place his main job was to open holes for backfield mate Lydell Mitchell. The Steelers, within the closing phases of a rebuild led by Corridor of Fame coach Chuck Noll, noticed sufficient in Harris to make him the thirteenth total decide within the 1972 draft.

“When (Noll) drafted Franco Harris, he gave the offense coronary heart, he gave it self-discipline, he gave it want, he gave it the flexibility to win a championship in Pittsburgh,” Steelers Corridor of Fame extensive receiver Lynn Swann mentioned of his frequent roommate on staff highway journeys.

Harris’ affect was rapid. He received the NFL’s Rookie of the 12 months award in 1972 after speeding for a then-team-rookie file 1,055 yards and 10 touchdowns because the Steelers reached the postseason for simply the second time in franchise historical past.

Town’s massive Italian-American inhabitants embraced Harris instantly, led by two native businessmen who based what grew to become generally known as “Franco’s Italian Military,” a nod to Harris’ roots because the son of an African-American father and an Italian mom.

Eight instances he topped 1,000 yards speeding in a season, together with 5 instances whereas enjoying a 14-game schedule. He piled up one other 1,556 yards speeding and 16 speeding touchdowns within the playoffs, each second all-time behind Smith.

Regardless of all of his success, his time in Pittsburgh ended acrimoniously when the Steelers minimize him after he held out throughout coaching camp earlier than the 1984 season. Noll, who leaned on Harris so closely for thus lengthy, famously answered “Franco who?” when requested about Harris’ absence from the staff’s camp at Saint Vincent Faculty.

Harris signed with Seattle, operating for simply 170 yards in eight video games earlier than being launched in midseason. He retired because the NFL’s third all-time main rusher behind Walter Payton and Jim Brown.

“I don’t even take into consideration that (anymore),” Harris mentioned in 2006. “I’m nonetheless black and gold.”

Harris remained in Pittsburgh following his retirement, opening a bakery and turning into closely concerned in a number of charities, together with serving because the chairman of “Pittsburgh Promise,” which offers faculty scholarship alternatives for Pittsburgh Public College college students.

Harris is survived by his spouse Dana Dokmanovich and his son.

This can be a creating story. Please examine again for updates.

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