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.
Legendary Steelers RB Franco Harris, author of the “Immaculate Reception” - one of the greatest plays in NFL history - has passed away at the age of 72.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) December 21, 2022
A 4-time Super Bowl champion, Hall of Fame player and revered individual by so many.
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.
My lasting memory of Franco Harris is not only did he spend time talking with me yesterday, he also turned a photo request into a history lesson for Mimi, 15, and Reese, 11, who were visiting Pittsburgh with their dad for the day. Franco was so kind and had time for everyone. pic.twitter.com/H1KRS4QP2q— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) December 21, 2022
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.