NFL: death of Franco Harris 3 days before the withdrawal of his jersey by the Steelers

PITTSBURGH — Franco Harris, a Pro Football Hall of Fame running back whose presence of mind spawned the “Immaculate Reception,” a game considered the most unforgettable in National League history. soccer, passed away. He was 72 years old.

Her son Dok told The Associated Press that Harris died overnight. The cause of death was not specified.

His death comes two days before the 50th anniversary of the game that sparked the momentum that would transform the Pittsburgh Steelers from mediocre training to elite NFL club. It also comes three days before a ceremony in which the Steelers must retire his number 32 jersey, during halftime of Saturday night’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

“We have lost an incredible football player, an incredible Hall of Fame ambassador and most importantly, we have lost one of the greatest gentlemen it is possible to meet,” said Hall President Jim Porter. of professional football fame, in a statement.

“Franco not only had an impact on the sport of football, but he also touched the lives of many, many people in profoundly positive ways. »

Throughout his career, Harris rushed for 12,120 yards and contributed to four Super Bowl wins for the Steelers during the 1970s.

In fact, the Steelers dynasty of the ’70s was born the day Harris decided to keep running in what was the last play of a playoff game against the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 23, 1972.

The Steelers trailed 7-6 and faced a fourth down and 10 yards to go from their 40-yard line with 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

After receiving the ball from his center, quarterback Terry Bradshaw took a few steps back and made a pass towards running back Frenchy Fuqua, posted in the middle of the field.

As the ball got to him, Fuqua collided with defensive back Jack Tatum, swerving the ball not far away, in the direction Harris was heading.

When just about every other player had stopped moving, Harris kept his legs moving and grabbed the ball inches from the artificial surface at Three Rivers Stadium, the home of the Steelers at the time, near the Raiders 45-yard line.

Harris then outrun several bewildered Raiders defensive players into the end zone, giving the Steelers their first playoff win in franchise history, some 40 years after entering the league.

“This game really represents our teams of the 70s,” Harris said after the “Immaculate Reception” was voted the greatest game in NFL history, on the sidelines of the league’s 100th season in 2020.

Despite losing the following week to the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Finals, the Steelers had just embarked on a journey that would make them the most dominant team of the ’70s.

During this decade, the Steelers won back-to-back Super Bowls on two separate occasions, first in the 1974 and 1975 seasons, and then after the 1978 and 1979 seasons.

And it all started with a game that changed the fate of a franchise and, in a way, an entire region.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 50 years, that’s a long time,” Harris said in September, when the team announced it was retiring its old number.

“And to see that [ce jeu] is still so alive, it’s exciting and thrilling. That really says a lot. It means a lot. »

Harris, a six-foot-two, 230-pound indefatigable worker, found himself in the thick of those golden times.

He rushed for a Super Bowl record 158 yards at the time and scored a touchdown in the Steelers’ 16-6 win over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX on Jan. 12, 1975. Harris had been named Most Valuable Player of the game.

He has scored at least one touchdown in three of the four Super Bowl games he has appeared in, and his 354 rushing yards on the most prestigious stage in American football remains an NFL record, almost four decades after he had retired.

Born in Fort Dix, New Jersey on March 7, 1950, Harris played his college football at Penn State, where his main role was to create gaps for teammate Lydell Mitchell.

While in the final stages of a rebuild led by head coach Chuck Noll, the Steelers had seen enough good things from Harris to choose him 13th overall in the 1972 draft.

“When (Noll) picked Franco Harris, he gave offense heart, he gave him discipline, he gave him desire, he gave him the skill to win a championship in Pittsburgh,” said former wide receiver Lynn Swann, who often shared a hotel room with Harris during the team’s overseas games.

Harris’ impact was instantaneous. He was named the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1972 after rushing for 1,055 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns. His performances helped the Steelers advance to the playoffs for only the second time in club history.

The “Immaculate Reception” made Harris a star player, although he always preferred to let his game do the talking. Others, the very low-key Harris spent 12 seasons as the Steelers’ offensive engine.

He had eight seasons with rushing 1,000+ yards, including five when teams were playing 14 games a year. He added 1,556 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns in playoff games, two categories where he ranks second in league history behind Emmitt Smith, the former Dallas Cowboys.

Despite all of his success, his time in Pittsburgh ended acrimoniously when the Steelers cut him after he chose to strike during training camp prior to the 1984 season.

Noll, who had trusted Harris so often and for so long, famously replied, “Franco who? when asked about Harris’ absence from training camp.

Harris joined the Seahawks from Seattle but had just 170 yards in eight games before being released mid-season.

When he retired, he was third in rushing yards in NFL history, behind Walter Payton and Jim Brown.

“I don’t think about that anymore,” Harris said in 2006. “I’m still Black and Gold.”

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