Franco Harris’ death comes two days before the 50th anniversary of ‘The Immaculate Reception’ play that he was famed for; the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Las Vegas Raiders on Christmas Eve in a repeat of that 1972 clash, with a half-time ceremony scheduled to retire Harris’ No 32 jersey
Last Updated: 21/12/22 1:09pm
Franco Harris, the Hall of Fame running back who became famous for ‘The Immaculate Reception’ that helped transform the Pittsburgh Steelers from also-rans into the NFL’s elite, has died at the age of 72.
Harris’ son Dok told The Associated Press his father passed away overnight. No cause of death was given.
Harris’ death comes two days before the 50th anniversary of the immaculate reception play for which he became renowned, considered the most iconic in NFL history.
The Pittsburgh Steelers host the Las Vegas Raiders on Christmas Eve as part of the anniversary celebrations, a repeat of the 1972 divisional playoff clash between the two teams. The Steelers have a half-time ceremony scheduled to retire Harris’ No 32 jersey.
Harris ran for 12,120 yards over his 12-year playing career from 1972 to 1984, all but one of which was spent with the Steelers.
He won four Super Bowl rings with Pittsburgh in the 1970s, a dynasty that began with Harris’ world-famous catch against the Raiders in the 1972 playoffs.
With Pittsburgh trailing 7-6 and facing fourth-and-10 from their own 40-yard line, with only 22 seconds remaining in the game, quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw the ball deep to running back French Fuqua. Fuqua and Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum collided, sending the ball careening back toward midfield and in the direction of Harris.
While nearly everyone else on the field stopped, Harris kept his legs churning, snatching the ball just inches above the turf before then out-racing several stunned defenders to give the Steelers their first playoff victory in the franchise’s four-decade history.
“That play really represents our teams of the 70s,” Harris said after ‘The Immaculate Reception’ was voted the greatest play in NFL history during the league’s 100th anniversary season in 2020.
While the Steelers were defeated the following week by the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Championship game, Pittsburgh were on their way to becoming the dominant team of the 1970s in the NFL, twice winning back-to-back Super Bowls, first after the 1974 and 1975 seasons and again after the 1978 and 1979 campaigns.
Harris was at the centre of it all. He ran for a then-record 158 rushing yards and a touchdown in Pittsburgh’s 16-6 victory over Minnesota in Super Bowl IX on his way to being named the game’s MVP.
He scored at least once in three of the four Super Bowls he played in, and his 354 career yards rushing on the NFL’s biggest stage remains a record nearly four decades after his retirement.
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