Steelers Hall of Fame RB Franco Harris Dies at 72, NFL Community Mourns

Author of one of the most iconic plays in NFL history, Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris died early Wednesday morning. He was 72.

Dok Harris told The Associated Press his father died overnight. No cause of death was given.

Harris’ death comes two days before the 50-year anniversary of The Immaculate Reception, the 1972 AFC Playoff game in which Harris caught a ricocheted pass just before it hit the ground and ran it for a touchdown to beat the Oakland Raiders. NFL Films chose it as the greatest play of all time and the most controversial.

The Steelers were scheduled to retire Harris’ No. 32 on Saturday against the Raiders to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Immaculate Reception.

Tony Dungy was a senior in high school watching that Raiders-Steelers playoff game with his father. He remembers telling his day that Harris’ Immaculate Reception was the luckiest play he had ever seen in any sport. Five years later, Dungy was in camp with the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent.

“I’m watching him practice,” the former Indianapolis Colts coach told The 33rd Team’s Jade McCarthy on Wednesday, “and after about a week, I called my dad and said, ‘That wasn’t a lucky play.’ It might have been fortunate that the ball bounced up, but that was Franco to the T. He hustled every moment, he practices hard, he plays hard. He showed me how to practice and get ready to be a champion.

“And off the field, to see him interact with fans, to see him welcome all the rookies in and treat you like you’re somebody special, even if you’re an undrafted free agent like I was. To see him in the community and go to charity events with him — to become part of the atmosphere of Pittsburgh. … I can’t tell you the impact he had on me as a person, as well as a player.”

Dave Wannstedt, an analyst for The 33rd Team, recalled an interaction he had with Harris while Wannstedt was the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh.

“Harris said, ‘I know you’re Pitt, and I’m Penn State, but I am here in Pittsburgh and anything I can do to help you, your family or your staff, I am a Pittsburgh guy and keep that in mind if anything ever crosses that bridge,'” Wannstedt said. “That’s how I’ll always remember Franco.”

Harris attended Penn State in college and was primarily used as a fullback. The Steelers took him 13th overall in the 1972 NFL Draft.

Harris played for the Steelers for 12 of his 13 NFL seasons. He won four Super Bowls in Pittsburgh, ran for 12,120 yards, and was selected to either the Pro Bowl or as an All-Pro every season from 1972 to 1980. He won the 1972 Rookie of the Year award by breaking the then-rookie rushing record with 1,055 yards while adding 10 touchdowns.

“We have lost an incredible football player, an ambassador to the Hall of Fame, and more importantly, we have lost one of the finest gentlemen anyone will ever meet,” wrote Hall of Fame President Jim Porter in a statement. “Franco not only impacted the game of football, but he also impact the lives of many, many people in profoundly positive ways.”

Social media was filled with an outpouring of love and respect following his death.

Harris is survived by his wife, Dana Dokmanovich, and his son, Dok.

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