Franco Harris, a running back in the NFL Hall of Fame who caught the infamous “Immaculate Reception” and helped the Pittsburgh Steelers win four Super Bowls in the1970s, passed away during the night at the age of 72. The cause of death was not right away made public.
Harris, who played college football for Penn State, started his professional football career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He won the offensive rookie of the year award and later became the Super Bowl IX MVP and a player in nine Pro Bowls.
However, his most memorable professional moment was the miraculous shoestring catch of a deflected pass from Terry Bradshaw during his rookie season in a playoff game against the Oakland Raiders. “The catch” occurred when the Steelers faced a fourth and long from their own 44-yardline and trailed the Raiders 7-6 with just 22 seconds left. Legendary Pittsburgh sportscaster Myron Cope gave the play its now-iconic name.
John Fuqua, the intended receiver, was hit by the pass, but Harris was able to catch it before it hit the ground and run it into the end zone to seal the victory. Although the Steelers were later eliminated from the playoffs, the game marked the start of a dynastic rise for Chuck Noll’s team that included future Hall of Famers Harris, Bradshaw, and many others.
After the 1974 and 1975 seasons and again after the 1978 and 1979 seasons, the team would win back-to-back Super Bowls twice. Harris exceeded 1,000 yards rushing eight times and added 1,556 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns in the postseason, both of which rank second all-time behind Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys.
After being released by the Steelers during the 1984 campaign, Harris briefly played for the Seattle Seahawks before taking his retirement. With 12,120 career rushing yards and 100 touchdowns, he had a successful career.
Harris was renowned for being modest despite his legendary exploits. Harris said during his Hall of Fame speech in 1990, “You see, during that era, each player brought their own little piece with them to make that wonderful decade happen.”
Together with fellow NFL legend and former Penn State teammate Lydell Mitchell, Harris opened a bakery in 1990 after his professional career came to an end. RSuper Foods, the bakery, provides food for school cafeterias. This weekend, during a home game against the Raiders, the Steelers plan to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the catch and retire Harris’ number 32.