Pittsburgh Steelers Legend Franco Harris Dies Days Before His Number Was Set to Be Retired at Immaculate Reception Anniversary

Franco Harris, a four-time Super Bowl champion running back who is also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has died, according to the Associated Press. He was 72 years old. The cause of death was not announced but Harris' son, Dok, told the Associated Press that his father died overnight. The news comes two days before the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, a play that involved Harris and helped the Pittsburgh Steelers be the team of the 1970s. The Steelers were set the retire Harris' No. 32 during a ceremony at halftime of its game against the Las Vegas Raiders. 

"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 on Wednesday, per NFL.com. "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. My heart and prayers go out to his wife, Dana, an equally incredible person, a special friend to the Hall and someone who cares so deeply for Franco's Hall of Fame teammates."

Harris was a member of the Steelers from 1972-1983 and the Seattle Seahawks in 1984. In his career, Harris, rushed for 12,120 yards and 91 touchdowns. He helped the Steelers win four Super Bowls in six years, was named MVP of Super Bowl IX, was selected to the Pro Bowl nine times and was named to the All-Pro team three times. The "Immaculate Reception" happened during a playoff game against the Raiders in 1972. Trailing 7-6 with 22 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw a pass on fourth-and-10 that was intended for running back French Fuqua. Fuqua and Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum collided sending the ball back toward midfield in the director of Harris. He caught the ball and kept running to the end zone to give the Steelers the big win.

In 2020, the Immaculate Reception was voted as the greatest play in NFL history during the league's 100th anniversary season. Harris was also selected to the 1970s All-Decade Team, the Steelers All-Time Team, the Pittsburgh Pro Football Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990. 

But as much success Harris had in his NFL career, Harris said he just played a small role in the Steelers' run. "You see, during that era, each player brought their own little piece with them to make that wonderful decade happen," Harris said during his Hall of Fame speech. "Each player had their strengths and weaknesses, each their own thinking, each their own method, just each, each had their own. But then it was amazing, it all came together, and it stayed together to forge the greatest team of all times."