Franco Harris Dies: Hall Of Famer Who Caught “The Immaculate Reception” & Won 4 Super Bowls Was 72

Franco Harris, the Hall of Fame running back who made “the Immaculate Reception” — voted the NFL’s greatest play of all time — and won four Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers, died early Wednesday. He was 72. His son told the Associated Press that Harris died overnight but did not give other details.

Fifty years ago this week, Harris was a rookie when he caught “The Immaculate Reception” in a playoff game against the Oakland Raiders. Pittsburgh was trailing 7-6 with time running out when quarterback Terry Bradshaw’s desperation pass deflected off either Steelers receiver Frenchy Fuqua and/or Raiders defender Jack Tatum. Harris caught the ball inches from the ground and scampered more than 40 yards down the sideline for a touchdown as time wound down.

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Game officials were initially not sure who deflected the pass. Had it gone off a Steeler, rules would have made it an incomplete pass. But the referees huddled, then ruled it a touchdown. Pittsburgh kicked the extra point for a 13-7 lead with five seconds remaining to advance to the first AFC Championship game in franchise history.

A nationwide panel of 68 media members voted the wild play at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium, which would lead to rule changes for the league, as the greatest in NFL history. Steelers would lose the following week to the Miami Dolphins, who were en route to the league’s only perfect season. Here is “the Immaculate Reception” (after “The Catch”) — and watch a deep dive into the play below:

But Harris was just getting started. He, Bradshaw and their teammates went on to win four Super Bowls during the 1970s — with Harris being named MVP of the 1975 title game — and are considered among the best teams the NFL ever produced. Ten of them are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including Bradshaw, “Mean” Joe Greene, Lynn Swann and Jack Lambert. He was inducted in 1990.

Harris made nine consecutive Pro Bowls from 1972-80, was the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1972 and was named to the NFL’s 1970s All-Decade Team. He finished his 13-year career with 12,120 rushing yards, 91 rushing touchdowns — then a record — and nine receiving TDs for 100 total. His zealous fan base was dubbed “Franco’s Italian Army,” and many would wear military helmets to home games at Three Rivers Stadium.

Born on March 7, 1950 in Fort Dix, NJ, Harris was a high school football standout and played his college ball at Penn State. The Steelers drafted him at No. 13 overall in 1972, and he would play a dozen seasons with the team. He finished his NFL career with the Seattle Seahawks in 1984. He became a successful businessman after hanging up the cleats.

And here is a look at Harris and Bradshaw re-enacting the play on Fox in 2020:

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