Pittsburgh Steelers great Franco Harris, who was arguably best known for one of the most iconic plays in NFL history – dubbed the “Immaculate Reception” – has died at the age of 72, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced on Wednesday.
Harris died overnight, the Hall of Fame said, citing his family. The cause of his death hasn’t been announced.
“We have lost an incredible football player, an incredible ambassador to the Hall and, most importantly, we have lost one of the finest gentlemen anyone will ever meet,” said Hall of Fame President Jim Porter.
“Franco not only impacted the game of football, but he also affected the lives of many, many people in profoundly positive ways.
“The Hall of Fame and historians everywhere will tell Franco’s football story forever. His life story can never be told fully, however, without including his greatness off the field.”
Harris died days before the 50th anniversary of the “Immaculate Reception,” a game-winning touchdown catch which led the Steelers to victory over the then Oakland Raiders 13-7 for Pittsburgh’s first-ever playoff game in the 1972 AFC Divisional Round.
“That play really represents our teams of the ’70s,” Harris recalled after the reception was voted the greatest play in NFL history in 2020 during the league’s 100th anniversary season.
The Steelers had planned to retire Harris’ number 32 jersey during halftime of their game against the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday.
“The career that it spawned in Franco, a gold jacket career,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday.
“What it did for them that season in terms of the trajectory of the season. What it’s done for this franchise. There’s many things that make it the play that it is. The most significant play in the history of the game.”
Drafted out of Penn State as the 13th pick in the 1972 NFL Draft, Harris quickly became a star for the team, winning the NFL’s Rookie of the Year after becoming only the fourth rookie in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards.
In his career, Harris was a four-time Super Bowl champion, winning MVP honors in Super Bowl IX after rushing for 158 yards in the game against the Minnesota Vikings to help the Steelers capture their first-ever league title.
Running back Harris retired after 13 seasons – 12 with the Steelers and one with the Seattle Seahawks.
The nine-time Pro Bowler rushed for at least 1,000 yards in eight seasons, amassing 12,120 rushing yards and 91 touchdowns in his career.
He was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.