Franco Harris Obituary, Pittsburgh PA, Steelers Hall of Fame running back dies at 72

Franco Harris Obituary, Death – Franco Harris, 72, legendary Steelers running back and Pro Football Hall of Famer has died on December 21, 2022. He was an American football fullback who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks in the National Football League (NFL). He was an important part of one of the most iconic plays in NFL history, dubbed “The Immaculate Reception” by Pittsburgh sportscaster Myron Cope. He was drafted 13th overall by the Steelers in the first round of the 1972 NFL Draft after playing college football for the Penn State Nittany Lions. He played for the Steelers for his first 12 years in the NFL before joining the Seahawks for his 13th and final season. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.

Harris was born in the New Jersey town of Fort Dix. His father, Cad Harris, served in WWII and was stationed in Italy. His mother, Gina Parenti Harris, was a native Italian who became a “war bride,” immigrating to the United States with her husband after the war ended. Harris enrolled at Penn State after graduating from Rancocas Valley Regional High School in Mount Holly Township, New Jersey, in 1968. Harris largely served as a blocker for All-American running back Lydell Mitchell when playing for the Penn State Nittany Lions, gaining 2,002 yards rushing with 24 touchdowns and an average of more than 5 yards per carry, while also collecting 28 catches for 352 yards and another touchdown. He led the squad in scoring in 1970.

In his debut season with the Steelers (1972), Harris was named the league’s Rookie of the Year by both The Sporting News and United Press International. That season, he accumulated 1,055 yards on 188 carries, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. He has 10 touchdown runs and four touchdown receptions to his credit. His fans, who included “Brigadier General” Frank Sinatra, dubbed themselves “Franco’s Italian Army” and donned army helmets bearing his number. Harris was selected to nine consecutive Pro Bowls from 1972 through 1980 and was awarded All-Pro in 1977. Harris rushed for over 1,000 yards in eight seasons, breaking Jim Brown’s record. Following the 1974, 1975, 1978, and 1979 seasons, Harris and Rocky Bleier teamed up with a great defense to win four Super Bowls.

He was voted Super Bowl IX’s Most Valuable Player on January 12, 1975, after running for 158 yards and a touchdown on 34 runs in a 16-6 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Harris became the first African-American and the first Italian-American to be named Super Bowl MVP. Harris was instrumental in the Steelers’ first four Super Bowl victories. His Super Bowl career totals of 101 carries for 354 yards are Super Bowl records, and he ranks second in Super Bowl history with four career running touchdowns. Harris was also the only player to score a touchdown in all four of the Steelers’ 1970s Super Bowl triumphs.

Harris claims that by avoiding unnecessary contact, he was able to prolong his career and thereby contribute to the team’s goals (including four Super Bowl triumphs). In 1984, he got the Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement. In 1999, he was ranked 83rd on The Sporting News’ list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. In 2006, the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, which is housed at The Heinz History Center, installed a life-size figure of Harris in Pittsburgh International Airport’s main concourse. Harris’ “Immaculate Reception” is depicted in the monument. He was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2011.