I was born in 1983. That means I was one when Franco Harris decided to call it a career after his brief stint with the Seattle Seahawks in 1984.
I never saw Harris play a snap of football, but I know plenty about him, and his career.
Growing up in a household who all rooted for the Pittsburgh Steelers, you knew the names of the greats, whether you were alive to see them play or not.
Jack Lambert, “Mean” Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, and, of course, Franco Harris.
I remember my parents telling stories of watching those legendary 70s team winning four Super Bowl championships in that decade. How the parties which were thrown for big playoff games were things of legend, at least in my their minds.
As I grew up following the Steelers, the history of the team was always impressed upon me as being important. Don’t just know the current team, know the players who came before. Know the players who set the precedent.
I remember reading books in middle school on the Steelers of the 70s, and the education of those teams continued into adulthood with various books and recollections of the dynasty of all dynasties. However, after the death of Franco Harris Wednesday morning, I sat there wondering about the next generation of Steelers fan. Will they know what kind of player Harris was? Or will they simply know him from the Immaculate Reception?
Don’t get me wrong, the Immaculate Reception was...well...immaculate. If someone took that play/story to Disney to be turned into a movie, they’d laugh at you and have you be on your way. I mean, I can’t say I’d blame them. 1972, the Steelers first trip to the playoffs, a rookie from Penn State makes the most incredible play in league history to propel the Steelers past the Raiders?!
Yeah, seems pretty far-fetched if you didn’t have history to prove you otherwise.
Nonetheless, the hope is the next generation of Steelers fan knows Harris was so much more than just one play. That he wasn’t a “one trick pony” from a career perspective. For those who don’t know, just look at some of the accolades Harris was able to achieve throughout his 13-year NFL career.
- Class of 1990 Pro Football Hall of Fame
- 4x Super Bowl Champion
- Super Bowl IX MVP
- 1972 Offensive Rookie of the Year
- 1977 Man of the Year
- Hall of Fame 1970s All-Decade Team
- 9x Pro Bowl
- 1st Team All-Pro
As if that wasn’t enough, look at his career statistics:
Attempts (Rushing): 2,949
Yards (Total): 12,120
Yards per Attempt: 4.1
The man is in the Hall of Fame for a reason, and those accolades speak for themselves. But if you were to dig a little further, you’d see how Harris wasn’t just a great player, but a great person. Whether you are talking about the man who stayed in Pittsburgh after his retirement, and became as much a fixture in the city as any other Pittsburgh legend, maybe second only to Mario Lemieux or Roberto Clemente. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has a negative story after meeting Harris, even if just for a minute.
When talking with other Steelers fans, you don’t have to say Franco Harris, just ‘Franco’. Fans will talk about Franco’s Italian Army and how teammates called him the Italian Stallion. Harris was the toast of the town by the likes of Myron Cope and others for his stellar play on the field, not just one play in 1972 at Three Rivers Stadium.
While some bemoaned the fact he ran out of bounds on occasion to save his body from the beating an NFL running back takes week-in and week-out, no one can say a word about the complete body of work he put on the field for all those years.
Franco was Pittsburgh.
Franco was the Steelers.
I never saw Franco Harris play a snap, but I feel like I did. Be sure the next generation of Steelers fans know all about Harris, and not just the Immaculate Reception. It’s a good start, but far from the complete story.
Saturday night when the Steelers honor the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, and retire Harris’ legendary No. 32 jersey, it will be with heavy hearts. Franco was supposed to be there, to wave at the crowd and twirl the Terrible Towel to get the crowd into a frenzy.
The celebration will happen, but the latter won’t. It is at this time we celebrate Harris lifetime achievements, and ensure the next generation of Steelers fan knows all about the man affectionately known as Franco.
R.I.P Franco Harris