Steelers legend Franco Harris has died at the age of 72
The former Pittsburgh Steelers running back and Pro Football Hall of Famer Franco Harris has died. He was 72 years old.
Harris’ death comes just days before the 50th anniversary of the Steelers’ celebration of the “Immaculate Conception.” On December 23, 1972, Harris made one of the most iconic plays in NFL history when he came in against the Oakland Raiders and intercepted Terry Bradshaw’s pass intended for John Fuqua before it hit the ground.
After taking the ball, Harris scored the game-winning touchdown with just seconds left in the fourth quarter. The Steelers won that divisional playoff game 13-7 before falling short in the AFC title game. Miami Dolphins.
Harris’ son Doc told the Associated Press that the father passed away overnight and the cause of death was not immediately known.
With the Raiders visiting Pittsburgh on Saturday night, the Steelers are holding a ceremony to honor Harris’ play during halftime of the game. The team will also retire Harris’ iconic number 32.
Harris was a rookie in 1972
Harris’ legendary play immediately made him a rookie member of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ lineup. In his first season with the team in 1972, he rushed 188 times for 1,055 yards in 14 games, though hardly anyone remembers those rushing yards or his 10 rushing touchdowns that season.
Harris would rush for over 1,000 yards in eight of his 11 seasons in Pittsburgh. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry as a rookie and had a league-leading 14 touchdowns in 1976. After one season in Seattle followed by 12 years in Pittsburgh, Harris finished his career with 12,120 yards and 91 TDs. In 1990 he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Before being selected by the Steelers with the 13th pick in the 1972 NFL draft, Harris played at Penn State. Harris rushed for over 600 yards in his three seasons on the field for the Nittany Lions and totaled 25 touchdowns while pairing with Lydell Mitchell in the backfield.
The Steelers emerged as a powerhouse in the 1970s
The Steelers went 11-3 in 1972 after drafting Harris 13th overall. It was Pittsburgh’s first winning season since a 7-4-3 campaign in 1963 and the third straight year of improvement as the Steelers went 1-13 in Chuck Noll’s first season as head coach in 1969.
That 11-3 season set the standard for what the Steelers became in the 1970s. After losing to that immortal Dolphins team in the AFC title game, the Steelers went 10-4 the following season before getting revenge on the Raiders 33-14 in a divisional playoff game just before the first anniversary of Harris’ catch.
With Harris as the centerpiece of Pittsburgh’s offense, the Steelers won four of the next six Super Bowl titles. The Steelers beat the Vikings 16-6 to win Super Bowl IX in January 1975 and then went on to win. Dallas Cowboys 21-17 in Super Bowl X. Harris rushed 34 times for 158 yards in the win over the Vikings and had six rushing touchdowns in that season’s playoffs.
After beating the Cowboys again in Super Bowl XIII, the Steelers ended their 1970 Super Bowl run with a 31-19 win. Los Angeles Rams.
Harris played in 19 postseason games with the Steelers and had 400 carries for 1,556 yards and 16 rushes along with a TD against the Raiders. The Steelers went 14-5 in the playoffs when Harris was on the field.
Since that Super Bowl victory in 1979, the Steelers have had eight losing seasons and two more Super Bowl victories. The Steelers enter Saturday’s game at 6-8 and must win to avoid a loss in their first season under head coach Mike Tomlin.
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