Franco Harris, a Pittsburgh Steelers legend, died unexpectedly on Tuesday, December 20. The Hall of Fame running back was 72 years old when he died.
Harris’ death was especially tragic because his No. 32 jersey was slated to be retired at halftime during the Steelers’ Week 16 game against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Harris’ death also rocked the NFL world because it came only two days before the 50th anniversary of his famed ‘Immaculate Reception’ play, which altered the franchise’s fortunes in 1972.
I grew up watching Franco Harris, and had the honor of getting to know him years later. He was an extraordinary man on and off the field, and will be missed. Our thoughts go out to his family and all of Steeler Nation.
Franco Harris’ cause of death
According to Pittsburgh Action News 4 (via Economic Times), the Steelers icon died of natural causes.
After Harris’ tragic passing, Jim Porter, president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said:
“We have lost an incredible football player, an incredible ambassador to the Hall of Fame, and, most importantly, one of the finest gentlemen anyone will ever meet.”
“Franco not only influenced the game of football, but he also had a profound impact on the lives of many, many people.”
Harris was a first-round choice out of Penn State that same year and went on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year after rushing for 10 touchdowns and receiving 1,055 yards. He retired with four Super Bowl rings.
During the NFL’s 100th anniversary season in 2020, Harris’ ‘Immaculate Reception’ play off fellow Steelers star Terry Bradshaw’s last-minute heave was later declared the greatest play in NFL history.
“That play really represents our teams of the ’70s,” Franco Harris said at the time, according to the Associated Press.
Franco Harris also earned Super Bowl MVP honors in the 16-6 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX after rushing for 158 yards and a touchdown. His tally of 354 career rushing yards in the Super Bowl remains a record to this day, four decades after he called time on a bona fide legendary career.