Iconic Pittsburgh Steelers running back and Pro Football Hall of Famer Franco Harris died on Tuesday, December 20, 2022, CBS News reported. He was 72.
Harris’ death was confirmed to the station by his family. No cause of death was provided.
The four-time Super Bowl champion and nine-time Pro Bowler was drafted by the Steelers and 13th overall pick in 1972 after playing for Joe Paterno at Penn State.
During his illustrious NFL career, Harris rushed for more than 11,000 yards with the Steelers, becoming the leading rusher in team history, and was named the MVP of Super Bowl IX.
Harris became part of history forever with his “Immaculate Reception” at Three Rivers Stadium in the Divisional Round of the 1972 playoffs. It was voted the greatest play in NFL history during the league’s 100th anniversary season in 2020, The Associated Press pointed out.
His death came two days before the 50th anniversary of the play.
A member of the Steelers Hall of Honor, Harris was set to have his #32 jersey retired by the team, joining Ernie Stautner and Joe Greene as the only two other players in franchise history to received that honor.
“Franco was the heart and soul of our team,” Greene said in a tribute posted by the Steelers.
“It is difficult to find the appropriate words to describe Franco Harris’ impact on the Pittsburgh Steelers, his teammates, the City of Pittsburgh, and Steelers Nation,” said Steelers president Art Rooney II. “From his rookie season, which included the Immaculate Reception, through the next 50 years, Franco brought joy to people on and off the field. He never stopped giving back in so many ways. He touched so many, and he was loved by so many.”
Many athletes, coaches and politicians took to social media to pay tribute to Harris. President Biden shared a heartfelt remembrance of why the team, and Franco in particular, “are close to my heart.
“It was this week fifty years ago when my first wife and infant daughter were killed and my two young sons were badly injured in a car accident while they were out getting a Christmas tree,” he said in a statement released by the White House. “I had just been elected to the U.S. Senate and I was in Washington when I got the call and rushed home to Delaware.
“I rarely left my boys’ bedside until they got better. But one day I did go shopping for them. When I returned, they were smiling for the first time since the accident. Art Rooney, the generous and honorable owner of the Steelers, had flown out with a couple of players, including Franco, and the tough as nails Rocky Bleier. Busy with their own lives, they took the time to be with my boys, sign footballs, and then left with no publicity. A small act of kindness that meant the world to us.”
He concluded, “May God bless Franco Harris — a dear friend, a good man, and a great American.”
Former President Barack Obama tweeted, “I grew up watching Franco Harris, and had the honor of getting to know him years later. He was an extraordinary man on and off the field, and will be missed.”
Harris was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.
The Hall of Fame released a statement on Tuesday, December 20, 2022: “The entire team at the Pro Football Hall of Fame is immensely saddened today.
“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.”
Harris is survived by his wife Dana Dokmanovich and his son, Dok.