NFL legend Franco Harris, known for Immaculate Reception, dead at 72

NFL legend Franco Harris, known for Immaculate Reception, dead at 72

Posted For: Landru

By Ryan Gaydos

Franco Harris, the Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers running back who was known for making a miraculous grab in the AFC Divisional Playoffs against the Oakland Raiders in 1972, has died. He was 72.

Harris’ death came days before the Steelers were set to retire his No. 32 jersey and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the “Immaculate Reception” at Acrisure Stadium. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin talked about Harris’ catch on Tuesday when he addressed reporters.

“I was in Section 135 that day. I was eight months old. I think it’s funny. Surprisingly, I’ve probably met 75,000 people that were there that day,” Tomlin said. “It’s just one of those beautiful things in the history of our game. It’s humbling to be in close proximity to it, to work for this organization, to understand its impact on this organization, the career it spawned in Franco [Harris], a gold-jacket career, what it did for them that season in terms of changing the trajectory of that season, what it’s done for this franchise …”

“There are many things that make it the play that it is and the most significant play in the history of our game. It’s just an honor to be in proximity to it. To know the man involved, to call Pittsburgh home, and so it’s awesome to be a part of and to witness. But at the same time, we understand that we’ve got business, we’ve got present-day business and the best way we can honor him and that is by performing. We’re going to work extremely hard to prepare ourselves leading up to it.”

WTAE first reported the shocking news about Harris. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Harris’ son Dok told the Associated Press his father died overnight.

Harris was a first-round pick of the Steelers in the 1972 draft out of Penn State. He was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year when he rushed for 1,055 yards and 10 touchdowns. His prowess in the Steelers’ offense under legendary coach Chuck Noll quickly made him a big piece in the franchise’s dynasty.

He ran for 12,120 yards in all and won four Super Bowl rings with the Steelers in the 1970s. However, there may not have been a dynasty without his heads up play against the Raiders in the 1972 playoff game.

The Steelers were trailing 7-6 and facing a 4th-and-10 from their own 44-yard line with 22 seconds remaining. Pittsburgh had won the division with an 11-3 record and raced a Raiders team that was 10-3-1 and hungry for a run to the Super Bowl.

Terry Bradshaw took the snap and threw deep to John “Frenchy” Fuqua. The running back collided with Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum and the ball somehow made its way to Harris, who caught the ball and ran it back for a touchdown and the first playoff victory in the franchise’s history.

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In 2020, the play was celebrated as the greatest in the NFL’s 100-year history.

“That play really represents our teams of the ’70s,” Harris said at the time.

Harris would go on to play 13 years in the NFL – 12 with the Steelers and one with the Seattle Seahawks in 1984 before he retired. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler and was an All-Pro once.

Franco Harris and John Fuqua, former running backs for the Steelers, wave Terrible Towels before the Cincinnati Bengals game at Heinz Field on Dec. 23, 2012, in Pittsburgh.
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