Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris died at age 72 of unknown causes overnight Tuesday through Wednesday, the Football Hall of Fame said.
His death came just days before the Steelers retired their number 32 jersey after they had planned to do so during halftime of Saturday’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Inducted in 1990, Harris spent most of his career with the Pennsylvania organization, where he played from 1972 to 1983, before playing his final season with the Seattle Seahawks. In 173 regular season games, he had 12,120 yards and 91 touchdowns on 2,949 carries, adding 2,287 passing yards.
The running back had eight rushing campaigns for 1,000 yards or more and was invited to the Pro Bowl nine times, being selected to the NFL All-Star Team of the 1970s. When he retired, he held 24 records. Also, he contributed to four Super Bowl conquests by the Steelers.
“We have lost a wonderful football player, an incredible Temple ambassador and above all, one of the nicest gentlemen we have ever met. Franco not only had an impact on his sport, but he had a positive influence on the lives of many people,” the organization’s president, Jim Porter, said in a press release.
“We are all shocked and saddened to hear the news of the unexpected passing of Franco Harris,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell tweeted. He meant so much to Steelers fans, having been the running back who helped build the core of the 1970s dynasty. Pittsburgh and in the entire league. Franco changed the way of thinking about the NFL, his city and his team.
A famous catch
Some supporters still refer to the 13th overall pick in the 1972 NFL Draft as the “immaculate reception” achieved on December 23, 1972 in a playoff game against the Oakland Raiders; Saturday’s game was to mark the 50th anniversary of what was voted in 2020 by the NFL Network as the most beautiful game in league history.
During this famous sequence, Harris picked up a pass from Terry Bradshaw which was originally intended for Frenchy Fuqua. The ball hit an opposing player’s helmet and the ball carrier picked it up just inches off the ground. He then ran for nearly 60 yards to give his team a 13-7 victory.