Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris, who won four Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers and was on the receiving end of the “Immaculate Reception,” died on Tuesday. He was 72.
Harris’ death came two days before the 50th anniversary of the famous play, which was selected as the greatest moment in league history as part of the NFL 100 celebration in 2019.
Harris’ family confirmed his passing to KDKA in Pittsburgh. No cause of death has been reported.
The Steelers were scheduled to retire the No. 32 worn by Harris during Saturday’s game against the visiting Las Vegas Raiders.
The team has retired just two numbers, those of Joe Greene (75) and Ernie Stautner (70).
“The entire team at the Pro Football Hall of Fame is immensely saddened today,” Pro Football Hall of Fame president Jim Porter said in a statement. “We have lost an incredible football player, an incredible ambassador to the Hall, and most importantly, we have lost one of the finest gentlemen anyone will ever meet. Franco not only impacted the game of football, but he also affected the lives of many, many people in profoundly positive ways.
“The Hall of Fame and historians everywhere will tell Franco’s football story forever. His life story can never be told fully, however, without including his greatness off the field.”
The Immaculate Reception occurred Dec. 23, 1972, in a playoff game in Pittsburgh between the Steelers and then-Oakland Raiders. With the Steelers down 7-6 with 22 seconds to play and fourth-and-10 at their own 40-yard line, quarterback Terry Bradshaw scrambled, then threw a pass intended for John “Frenchy” Fuqua. After bouncing off Raiders safety Jack Tatum, the ball wound up in the hands of Harris, a 22-year-old rookie who ran it into the end zone for the game-winning, 60-yard score.
“That play really represents our teams of the ’70s,” Harris said after the Immaculate Reception was voted the greatest play in NFL history.
Tributes to Harris poured in on social media Wednesday morning.
“Franco Harris was so much more than just one play,” ESPN’s Mike Greenberg tweeted. “He was one of the great backs of his time, or any time, and the heartbeat of the offense of those legendary #Steelers teams. He was also as classy a gentleman as you could ever hope to meet. RIP Franco, thanks for the memories.”
Pennsylvania state Sen. Jay Costa offered his tribute.
“Franco’s legacy in our community will be forever one of joy, victory, and pride in the Steel City,” Costa tweeted. “Rest well, my friend.”
And from former NFL head coach Tony Dungy:
“Woke up this morning to the devastating news that my friend Franco Harris passed away during the night. One of the kindest, gentlest men I have ever known,” Dungy said. “He was a great person & great teammate. Hall of Fame player but so much more than that. A tremendous role model for me!”
Harris was selected to nine Pro Bowls and was the MVP of Super Bowl IX during his career with the Steelers (1972-83) and Seattle Seahawks (1984). He gained 14,407 yards from scrimmage and scored 100 touchdowns in 173 games (162 starts).
–Field Level Media