Franco Harris, a four-time Super Bowl champion and a Pro Football Hall of Fame running back, has passed away, reports the Associated Press. He was 72.
Dok Harris confirmed that his father passed away overnight. No cause of death was given.
Harris’ passing comes just days before the 50th anniversary celebration of the “Immaculate Reception.” He made one of the most iconic plays in NFL history on Dec. 23, 1972, against the Raiders when he came out of nowhere and caught a pass from Terry Bradshaw intended for John Fuqua before it hit the ground. The legendary footage shows Harris scoring the game-winning touchdown as time ran out.
The play give the Steelers their first-ever playoff win and launched their dynasty where they would win four Super Bowls in six years.
His number 32 is set to be retired by the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday.
Pro Football of Fame president Jim Porter paid tribute to Harris in a statement.
“We have lost an incredible football player, an incredible ambassador to the Hall and most importantly, we have lost one of the finest gentlemen anyone will ever meet,” Porter said. “Franco not only impacted the game of football, but he also affected the lives of many, many people in profoundly positive ways.”
Born in Fort Dix, New Jersey, on March 7, 1950, Harris played college football at Penn State, where he rushed for 2,002 yards and 24 touchdowns in his collegiate career. He was selected for the Steelers by Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll as the 13th overall pick in the 1972 draft.
In his first season with the Steelers, Harris rushed for 1,055 yards in 14 games, had 10 rushing touchdowns, averaged 5.6 yards a carry, and won the NFL’s Rookie to the Year award.
Harris was the engine behind the Steelers' dynasty in the 1970s which led to four Super Bowl championships. On January 12, 1975, he was the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl IX, rushing for 158 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries for a 16–6 win over the Minnesota Vikings. He was the first Black player as well as the first Italian-American to be named Super Bowl MVP.
During his Super Bowl career, he gained a record 354 yards and his four career rushing touchdowns are tied for the second-most in Super Bowl history. He also scored a touchdown in each of the Steelers four Super Bowl wins, the only player to do so.
Harris went on to rush for more than 1,000 yards in seven of his ensuing 11 seasons in Pittsburgh. His final season was with Seattle Hawks in 1984.
Throughout his 13-year professional career, Harris rushed for 12,120 yards (then 3rd all-time), was named to nine straight Pro Bowls, had a 4.1 yards per carry average, and scored 91 rushing touchdowns (then also 3rd). He also caught 307 passes for 2,287 yards and nine receiving touchdowns. Currently, he’s ranked 12th all-time in rushing and 10th all-time in rushing touchdowns.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.
Following his retirement, Harris returned to the Pittsburgh community where he remained a fan favorite. He opened a bakery and served as the chairman of “Pittsburgh Promise,” a charity that provides college scholarship opportunities for Pittsburgh Public School students.
On Tuesday, while reflecting on Harris’ legacy, Steelers' head coach Mike Tomlin called it “an honor to be in proximity to it, to know the man involved.”
Harris is survived by his wife Dana Dokmanovich and his son Dok.
We at EBONY extend our prayers and deepest condolences to the family and friends of Franco Harris.