Today would have been his 73rd birthday!
The death of Franco Harris is still one we’re processing, and it’s going to hurt for a while. An indomitable force, he is best remembered for being the heart of the Steelers franchise and a true football icon. Born March 7, 1950 in Fort Dix, New Jersey, Harris played 13 seasons in the NFL, Encyclopedia Britannica reports. He passed away unexpectedly this past December, two days before the 50th anniversary of the play that catapulted him to superstardom. In honor of the beloved Steelers star, here are 4 things you should know about Franco Harris, the first Black football player to be named Super Bowl MVP, courtesy of Steelers.com.
Harris was drafted to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1972.
When he was a child, Harris’ parents believed he would follow in his father’s footsteps and join the military, but he found his love for football in high school and earned a full scholarship to Penn State in 1968. While fellow running back Lydell Mitchell got most of the attention at Penn, Harris still showed up and out, finishing his college career with 24 touchdowns and 2,002 yards.
“The thing that impressed me about Franco was that coming out of Penn State, he wasn’t the No.1 back, but he showed a willingness to work,” former Steelers scout Bill Nunn previously told reporters.
That type of dedication paid off, and he was drafted in the first round to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1972.
He’s best known for creating what is considered the “Greatest Play in NFL History.”
Before Harris’ arrival, the Steelers had never won anything, going 41 seasons without ever making it to the Super Bowl. His first year in the league, Franco rushed for 1,055 yards and 10 touchdowns, even though he only started in 10 of the 14 games. He became the fifth rookie in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000 years and was named Offensive Rookie of the Year, the Steelers qualifying for the play-offs for the first time in 25 years that season.
During their first-round game against the Oakland Raiders, with 22 seconds remaining on the clock and the Steelers trailing 7-6 on fourth-and-10 from the Steelers’ 40-yard line, Harris caught a 60-yard pass from quarterback Terry Bradshaw before running it into the end zone and helping the Steelers win the game. The play became known as “The Immaculate Reception,” also referred to as the “Greatest play in NFL history.”
Harris was the first Black NFL player to be named Super Bowl MVP.
That fateful play was the shift the team needed, and after Harris, they didn’t lose much at all. He became a vital part of the Steelers franchise, leading them to 8 consecutive playoffs, 4 of which earned the team Super Bowl titles. Harris was named MVP of Super Bowl IX in 1975, making history as the first Black NFL player to ever hold the title. He played 12 seasons with the Steelers and one with the Seattle Seahawks before his retirement in 1984. He earned a reputation as a generous person who was always giving back to the community, never wanting fame or recognition. Franco is credited with sparking the Steeler magic and today, the franchise has 36 postseason wins and 6 Lombardi Trophies.
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He was inducted into the Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility.
Harris was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990, his first year of eligibility. A true team player, most of his speech was spent focused on other people, Harris sending a special message of love to Steelers fans everywhere.
“We didn’t know at that time that we were building such a dream, but now the results are in and anyway you look at it, it is truly immeasurable and certainly unforgettable. Good luck and God bless. Thank you very much. Don’t forget us,” he told the crowd.
You will never be forgotten. Happy Heavenly Birthday Franco! Rest in power.
4 things you should know about Franco Harris, the first Black football player to be named Super Bowl MVP/Photo Courtesy of Harry Cabluck/Associated Press