This weekend in my city, plans were scheduled to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception. Former Pittsburgh Steeler great Franco Harris played in the game that would set the Steelers on a future winning course. I was saddened to wake up this morning and hear that Franco Harris passed away the day before, on December 20, 2022. Franco was a 4-time Super Bowl champion and 9-time Pro Bowl athlete. He passed away just short of highly anticipated celebrations scheduled in our city to commemorate the Immaculate Reception. Franco had done recent interviews regarding that well-known milestone of that 1972 game. December 23, 1972, was the date of the game between the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers. The iconic play by Franco won that game with a final score of 13-7. The Steelers went on to play in the AFC championship game with the undefeated Miami Dolphins on December 31, 1972. The Steelers lost the game to Miami 21-17. However, the immaculate reception play began the historic future seasons of the 1970s championship Steeler team’s legacy. Coincidentally, the new Las Vegas Raiders are scheduled to play the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend December 24, 2022. Some are saying today, with the news of Franco’s passing, a Steelers win this weekend would be symbolic and fitting for Franco’s memory.
The much talked about game in 1972 was held in Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium. Unfortunately, at the time, the local games were blacked out for Pittsburgh and surrounding areas. Radio coverage was the only way for Pittsburghers to enjoy the game unless they were present in the stadium. I was a pre-teen during the game, but I already loved football since my older brother was a huge fan.
Franco Harris was considered a legend by many in the Pittsburgh area – my hometown. I’ve seen many Pittsburghers talk positively about Franco over the years of how he impacted their memories. He was well-known for more than football by the Pittsburgh community. I met Franco in a local mall’s food court, of all places, back in the 1980s. He had his then-young son with him. I had my young daughter who was pre-school age. I said hello, and Franco asked, “how are you?” That short conversation highlighted my memories of Franco, not counting his years with my favorite team – the Pittsburgh Steelers. I had the pleasure of seeing him play in person while working at Three Rivers Stadium in the late 1970s.
After he retired from professional football, Franco became active in the Pittsburgh area with community organizations. I could go on, but I’ll bring this to a close.
Pittsburgh Steeler fans lost a legend, but more importantly, his family has suffered a great loss. My prayers and condolences go out to Franco Harris’ family and loved ones.
Rest In Peace – Franco Harris.