clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Steelers legend Franco Harris dies at 72

Harris, who was a key figure in Raiders-Steelers rivalry, died suddenly just days before the “Immaculate Reception” 50th anniversary

AFC Play Off Game
Franco Harris

Franco Harris, the centerpiece of the Raiders-Pittsburgh Steelers rivalry, has unexpectedly died, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced on Wednesday. He was 72.

It’s a stunning and sad development with the Hall of Fame running back being at the center of a special anniversary this week, as we approach 50 years since the “Immaculate Reception” agains the Raiders.

Harris, of course, caught the legendary (and infamous in the Raider Nation) Immaculate Reception to give the Steelers an unlikely AFC Divisional victory over the then-Oakland Raiders on Dec. 23, 1972. It’s one of the most iconic and controversial plays in NFL history and it fueled the Raiders-Steelers rivalry, which was one of the very best in the league in the 1970s and still burns today because of that play.

With the 50th anniversary of the play Friday, the NFL schedule-makers couldn’t help themselves, scheduling the Raiders’ trip to the Steel City for a primetime Christmas Eve game. It will be shown on the NFL Network with a 5:15 p.m. PT kickoff.

The Steelers embraced the scheduling for several months as they announced they will retire Harris’ No. 32 jersey and honor the play (which has long been honored with a statute of Harris at the Pittsburgh International Airport). Now, it will be a somber event for a fan base that adores Harris.

Harris spent the early part of this week, talking to media about the play and the anniversary.

What a sad situation for the Steelers, their fans and the entire NFL community. Our condolences go out to the Harris family.

UPDATE: The Raiders have made a statement on Harris’ death.