PITTSBURGH ( Associated Press) – The ball went up. And 21 of the 22 players on the field at Three Rivers Stadium were paralyzed on that cold December day 50 years ago.
The exception was Franco Harris.
The Pittsburgh Steelers running back kept looking for the ball, an instinct he had demonstrated and would continue to display throughout his Hall of Fame career. And at the same time, it changed the perception of a dying franchise and an entire region in jeopardy.
The Steelers rarely won before they arrived in 1972. But from the moment Harris made the “immaculate catch”, they rarely lost.
Harris, the running back whose ingenuity created one of the most iconic plays in NFL history, has passed away. He was 72 years old.
Harris’s son, Doc, told The Associated Press that his father died Tuesday night. The cause of death was not disclosed.
His death came two days before the 50th anniversary of a play that was pivotal to the Steelers’ leap into one of the NFL’s elite teams, and three days before Pittsburgh had scheduled a retirement ceremony. Las Vegas Raiders.
Harris was busy leading up to the festivities, giving interviews to the press on Monday to discuss the moment with which he will forever be associated.
“It is difficult to find the right words to describe Franco Harris’ impact on the Pittsburgh Steelers, his teammates, the city of Pittsburgh and Steelers Nation,” team president Art Rooney II said in a statement. “Since his season, which included an immaculate reception, Franco brought joy to people on and off the pitch. He never stopped supporting in various ways. He touched many people and is loved by many. Did.”
Harris had 12,120 yards and won four Super Bowl rings with the Steelers during the 1970s, a dynasty that began in earnest when Harris threw to Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw in a 1972 playoff game against Oakland.
Pittsburgh fell behind 7–6. On 4th-and-10 from his own 40-yard line and with 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Bradshaw dropped back and threw deep to running back Frenchie Fuqua. Fuqua and Oakland defensive back Jack Tatum collided, the ball floating just above Three Rivers’ synthetic surface.
Harris caught it at the Oakland 45 and ran through several Raiders defenders into the end zone, giving the Steelers their first playoff win in their four-decade history.
Although the Raiders claimed the play was illegal at the time, over time they accepted their role in history. Oakland linebacker Phil Villapiano, who protected Harris on the play, also attended the 40th anniversary of the play in 2012, when a small monument was unveiled marking the exact spot where the catch was made.
“This play truly represents the teams of our ’70s,” said Harris as the “immaculate reception” topped voting for the most outstanding play in NFL history as we celebrated the league’s 100th anniversary in 2020.
Although the Steelers lost to Miami in the AFC Finals the following week, Pittsburgh was taking the first steps toward becoming the most dominant team of the 1970s, winning two consecutive Super Bowls, following the 1974 and 1975 seasons, and again in the 1970 campaigns. After 1978 and 1979.
And it all started with a move that changed a franchise and in some ways a region.
Football Hall of Fame President Jim Porter said, “We have lost an incredible player, an incredible Hall of Fame ambassador, and most importantly, the greatest gentleman.” “Franco not only had an impact on the game, but he impacted many people’s lives in a very positive way.”