Franco Harris, the Hall of Fame running back of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is considered the most famous play in the game whose brainchild created the “pure reception.” NFL History, dead. He was 72.
Harris’ son, Doc Harris, said his father died overnight. The cause of death was not disclosed.
It’s two days before the 50th anniversary of Harris’ death, which helped transform the Steelers from underdogs to elite, and the team will retire No. 32 at halftime of a game against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Harris ran for 12,120 yards and won four Super Bowls with the Steelers in the 1970s, a dynasty that ended when Harris decided to run for quarterback Terry Bradshaw’s last-second pass against the Raiders in Oakland in 1972.
With Pittsburgh trailing 7-6 and facing fourth-and-10 from their own 40-yard line with 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Bradshaw threw deep to the running back Frenchman. Fuqua and Oakland quarterback Jack Tatum collided and sent the ball to Harris.
Almost everyone stopped, but Harris scooped the ball inches up the field near the Oakland 45, then scored from multiple defenders to give the Steelers their first playoff victory in franchise history.
“That game really represents our ’70s teams,” he said after the game was named the best in NFL history during the league’s 100th anniversary in 2020.
When the Steelers fell to Miami the following week in the AFC Championship, they were on their way to becoming the dominant team of the 1970s, winning Super Bowls after the 1974, 1975, 1978 and 1979 seasons.
A 6ft 2in, 230lb workhorse from Penn State, Harris rushed for a then-record 158 yards and a touchdown in a 16-6 victory over Minnesota in Super Bowl IX, winning the Most Valuable Player award. He has scored at least one touchdown in three of his four Super Bowls, and his 354 yards rushing on the big stage remains the record.
Born March 7, 1950 in Fort Dix, New Jersey, Harris played at Penn State. The Steelers, in the final stages of a rebuild led by Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll, saw enough to make him the 13th overall pick in the 1972 draft.
“When [Noll] “He prepared Franco Harris, he gave him the heart of the offense, he disciplined him, he gave him the will to win championships in Pittsburgh,” said Steelers Hall of Fame wide receiver Lynn Swann, a frequent companion on road trips. .
In the year In 1972, Harris won the Rookie of the Year award after rushing for a then-team-rookie record 1,055 yards and 10 touchdowns as the Steelers reached the postseason for the second time in franchise history.
The city’s large Italian-American population embraced Harris, a nod to Harris’s African-American father and Italian mother, known as Franco’s Italian Army, run by local businessmen.
A clean reception made Harris a star, though he preferred to let his acting do the talking. On a team that featured big personalities in Bradshaw, defensive tackle Joe Greene, linebacker Jack Lambert and others, the quiet Harris spent 12 seasons as the engine of the offense.
He has topped 1,000 yards rushing in a season eight times, five in a 14-game stretch. He racked up another 1,556 yards rushing and 16 rushing touchdowns in the game, both second all-time. Harris insists he is just one cog in an extraordinary machine.
In the year In his 1990 Hall of Fame speech, he said, “You see, in those days, every player had a little piece of themselves that made those wonderful decades happen. Each of them had their own method, each of them. But then it was amazing, they all came together and stayed together to form the greatest team of all time.
Harris stuck up for his teammates. When Bradshaw took an illegal late hit from Dallas linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson in the second half of the 1978 Super Bowl, Harris essentially demanded that Bradshaw give him the ball on the next play. Harris ran 22 yards to Henderson for a touchdown that put the Steelers up 11 points.
Despite his success, Harris’ time in Pittsburgh ended brutally when the Steelers cut him after training camp before the 1984 season. Knoll famously asked, “Who is Franco?” he replied. When asked about Harris’ absence from camp.
Harris signed with Seattle after rushing for just 170 yards in eight games before being released. He retired as the NFL’s third all-time leading rusher behind Walter Payton and Jim Brown.
“I don’t even think about that. [any more]” Harris said in 2006: “I’m still in black and gold.
Harris stayed in Pittsburgh, opening a bakery and becoming involved in charities, including Pittsburgh Hope, which provides college scholarships to public school students. He is survived by his wife, Dana Dokmanovich, and son, Doc.