Harris ran for 12,120 yards and won four Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s, a dynasty that began in earnest when Harris decided to keep running during a last-second heave by Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw in a playoff game against Oakland in 1972.
With Pittsburgh trailing 7-6 and facing fourth-and-10 from their own 40 yard line and 22 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Bradshaw drifted back and threw deep to running back French Fuqua. Fuqua and Oakland defensive back Jack Tatum collided, sending the ball careening back toward midfield in the direction of Harris.
While nearly everyone else on the field stopped, Harris kept his legs churning, snatching the ball just inches above the Three Rivers Stadium turf near the Oakland 45 then outracing several stunned Raider defenders to give the Steelers their first playoff victory in the franchise’s four-decade history.
“That play really represents our teams of the ’70s,” Harris said after the “Immaculate Reception” was voted the greatest play in NFL history during the league’s 100th anniversary season in 2020.
While the Steelers fell the next week to Miami in the AFC Championship, Pittsburgh was on its way to becoming the dominant team of the 1970s, twice winning back-to-back Super Bowls, first after the 1974 and 1975 seasons and again after the 1978 and 1979 seasons.
And it all began with a play that shifted the fortunes of a franchise and, in some ways, a region.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 50 years, that’s a long time,” Harris said in September when the team announced it would retire his number. “And to have it so alive, you know, is still thrilling and exciting. It really says a lot. It means a lot.”
Harris, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound workhorse from Penn State, found himself in the center of it all. He churned for a then-record 158 yards rushing and a touchdown in Pittsburgh’s 16-6 victory over Minnesota in Super Bowl IX on his way to winning the game’s Most Valuable Player award. He scored at least once in three of the four Super Bowls he played in, and his 354 career yards rushing on the NFL’s biggest stage remains a record nearly four decades after his retirement.
“One of the kindest, gentlest men I have ever known,” Hall of Famer Tony Dungy, a teammate of Harris’ in Pittsburgh in the late 1970s, posted on Twitter. “He was a great person & great teammate. Hall of Fame player but so much more than that. A tremendous role model for me!”
Born in Fort Dix, New Jersey, on March 7, 1950, Harris played collegiately at Penn State, where his primary job was to open holes for backfield mate Lydell Mitchell. The Steelers, in the final stages of a rebuild led by Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll, saw enough in Harris to make him the 13th overall pick in the 1972 draft.
“When (Noll) drafted Franco Harris, he gave the offense heart, he gave it discipline, he gave it desire, he gave it the ability to win a championship in Pittsburgh,” Steelers Hall of Fame wide receiver Lynn Swann said of his frequent roommate on team road trips.
[Video] Youtube 'This Is Us' Fans Have Theories About Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception
‘This Is Us’ Fans Have Theories About Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception
Getty Images Amanda Edwards While many stories were woven in for the first episode of This Is Us season 3, they all seemed to be tied to Franco Harris. For all the non-football fans out there, Franco was a famous halfback for the Pittsburgh Steelers who is largely known for his part in the 1972 “Imm…