PITTSBURGH – The famous « Immaculate Reception » will forever be engraved in the annals of Pittsburgh. And so will the number of the most unforgettable game maker in the history of the National Football League.
The Pittsburgh Steelers will retire former running back Franco Harris’ No. 32 on Dec. 24, 50 years and a day after he caught the ball in midair and sprinted down the sideline into the end zone to provide his team with a stunning victory over the Oakland Raiders in a playoff game.
Harris, a member of the Football Hall of Fame, will become only the third player in the organization’s history to receive such an honor, after tackles Joe Greene (No. 75) and Ernie Stautner (No. 70).
Jokingly on Tuesday, Harris reacted by saying that it was about time the roster included an offensive player!
Harris spent 12 of his 13 National Football League seasons in Pittsburgh, arriving in 1972 after a college career at Penn State, hoping he would help that organization end decades of mediocrity.
That season, the Steelers advanced to the playoffs thanks in part to Harris’ rushing 1,055 yards in the regular season. However, the team led by Chuck Noll was down 7-6 with 22 seconds remaining and faced a fourth down and 10 yards to go from their 40-yard line.
Quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw a desperate pass to running back Frenchy Fuqua. The ball hit defensive back Jack Tatum’s helmet and looked destined to land on the artificial surface at Three Rivers Stadium when Harris caught it inches off the ground.
His run into the end zone completed a 60-yard play for a touchdown, cementing a 13-7 win and sending fans into a frenzy.
Although Harris has rushed for 12,120 career yards and been part of four Super Bowl winning rosters, he knows he will always be associated with that game that changed the fortunes of the organization.
Prior to this unimaginable Harris run, the Steelers had never won a playoff game. Today, they have six Super Bowl wins, which ties them with the New England Patriots for first in league history.
« The ‘Immaculate Reception’ was the turning point in franchise history, » Steelers President Art Rooney II said.
“My grandfather (Art Rooney Sr.) always used to say, ‘We never won until Franco got here. We never lost after he got here.’”
Two separate ceremonies will honor Harris. The premiere will take place at exactly 3:29 p.m. on Friday, December 23, on the plaque commemorating the exact spot where Harris made his catch at the former site of Three Rivers Stadium, since demolished.
The second ceremony will be held at halftime of the Dec. 24 game against the Raiders, who are now playing in Las Vegas.
During this game, the Steelers will sport a crest commemorating the game and they will wear a jersey similar to the one they used during the 1972 season.
All because Harris saw a balloon floating in the air and remembered the advice of Joe Paterno, his head coach at Penn State.
“Play to the end,” Harris recalled. » Never give up. Believe that things can happen (…) and always go for the ball. »