Revisiting Franco Harris' reaction that his number would be retired

Hear the news conference. Plus the story from September discusses more than just the Immaculate Reception, but the man
Franco Harris and Art Rooney
Photo credit 93.7 The Fan

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) – This is our story from September 6 when the Steelers announced they would be retiring Franco Harris’ jersey along with honoring the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception. We intentionally left it unedited to show the impact Franco had and his feelings for our region.

It’s one of the first images visitors see at the Pittsburgh International Airport, the statue of Franco Harris reaching down to catch the Immaculate Reception.  It’s next to the statue of a guy named George Washington, who made some history of his own.

That shows the importance of football and that play to our region.

It’s the importance of that play and Harris’ role in it as to why the Steelers decided to not only honor the 50th anniversary of the play in December when they host the Raiders, but retire Harris’ number 32.

“It’s a long overdue jersey retirement given Franco’s remarkable contributions to the Team of the Decade,” Steelers President Art Rooney said. “Many have said, and I agree, the Immaculate Reception was the turning point in franchise history. My grandfather was quoted once as saying before Franco got here, we didn’t win much. Since he got here we don’t lose.”

“I think that sums it up pretty good.  Franco’s impact on the franchise would be hard to overstate.”

“It wasn’t something top of mind that you think about,” Harris said Tuesday.  “You just know that the Steelers don’t retire numbers, so you don’t have any thoughts about it.  When they said it to me I was blown away.  It was such a ‘wow’ moment.”

He joked it was about time an offensive player had his number retired alongside Joe Greene and Ernie Stautner.  That could translate to that December 1972 game, it was 58 minutes of outstanding defense before a great play by Raiders quarterback Kenny Stabler, was topped only by Franco catching the ball out of the air.

“I remember leaving the backfield and I remember telling myself when Bradshaw threw the ball, ‘Franco, go to the ball’,” Harris said.  “That’s what Joe Paterno instilled to us at Penn State, always go to the ball.  That’s where the action is.”

“I start taking a few steps to the ball and I remember nothing after that.  I try to remember, but taking those couple of steps, I remember nothing.  The only thing I remember is stiff-arming Jimmy Warren heading into the end zone.”

“I don’t remember seeing a ball or seeing a collision.”

He’s filled in the pieces about what he forgot after watching the replay hundreds of times.  Along with the thousands of times he’s been asked about it, no matter where he travels.

“I try to understand with the ball in that position and being that low,” Harris said.  “How do you have top of mind to catch it like that?  Most guys would slide, but to catch it like that and without breaking stride.  I see this in the film.”

“At the collision I see some of the Raiders jumping up and down and celebrating.  Those couple of seconds I believe made a difference of me getting in the end zone.”

Rooney was on the field for that play.  He was working with the equipment guys and described the atmosphere as crazy.  Just as crazy probably as putting a statue of a football catch next to that of George Washington.

“It’s a welcoming for people to Pittsburgh, the City of Champions,” Harris explained.  “It lets them know that great things happen in Pittsburgh.”

Featured Image Photo Credit: 93.7 The Fan