NFL ‘Immaculate Reception’ creator Franco Harris dies at 72
Franco Harris, the Pittsburgh Steelers running back who caught what became known as the “Immaculate Reception,” has died aged 72, the Pro Football Hall of Fame said on Wednesday.
Harris rushed for 12,120 yards in 13 NFL seasons and won four Super Bowl rings with the Steelers, but it was a single catch off a ricocheted pass from Terry Bradshaw that turned into a game-winning 60-yard touchdown that is the signature moment in a Hall of Fame career.
That catch on Dec. 23, 1972, at Three Rivers Stadium helped the Steelers to their first-ever playoff win, a 13-7 victory over the Oakland Raiders, and has become NFL folklore known by American gridiron fans as the Immaculate Reception.
Pittsburgh is scheduled to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception on Saturday when the Steelers host the Las Vegas Raiders on Christmas Eve when Harris’s famous number 32 is to be retired.
A pillar in the history of our league. #RIP #FrancoHarris pic.twitter.com/Zz42doRXQZ
— Julian Edelman (@Edelman11) December 21, 2022
“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,” Hall of Fame president Jim Porter said in a statement.
Harris was the first selection for the Steelers in the 1972 draft and quickly established himself as one of the NFL’s best running backs, rushing for more than 1,000 yards to claim rookie of the year honors.
He rushed for 1,000 yards or more eight times and more than 100 yards in 47 games, earning nine selections to the Pro Bowl.
“It is difficult to find the appropriate words to describe Franco Harris’s 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.”
Harris was a cornerstone of the Steelers dynasty that won four Super Bowls in the 1970s.
In Super Bowl IX, when the Steelers won their first-ever league title with a 16-6 victory over Minnesota, Harris rushed for 158 yards, compared to 17 yards for the entire Viking team. He was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
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. Our thoughts go out to his family and all of Steeler Nation.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) December 21, 2022
“He meant so much to Steelers fans as the Hall of Fame running back who helped form the nucleus of the team’s dynasty of the ’70s, but he was much more,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.
“Franco changed how people thought of the Steelers, Pittsburgh, and the NFL.”
Harris’s death triggered an outpouring of grief across the worlds of sports, entertainment, and politics.
President Joe Biden recalled that after the car crash 50 years ago that killed his first wife and infant daughter and badly injured his two young sons, Harris and other Steelers players came to the hospital.
“Say the name Franco Harris and most everyone talks about the catch, the Super Bowls, and the glory he brought to the game of football,” Biden said. “But in the fifty years we bonded as friends, I always talked about his character and compassion.
“I know there will also be countless families like mine that will remember him for all he did to lift our spirits when we needed it – in the quietest, personal, and American ways.”