Franco Harris, legendary Pittsburgh Steeler football player, is one of 14 highlighted Pittsburgh athletes as part of the Downtown Renown: Pittsburgh Sports Greats series showcasing stories as inspirational as they are amazing. Designed in collaboration with artist Gavin Benjamin, find all sports profiles windows currently on view in windows around the neighborhood.
He came to Pittsburgh to play football and stayed, becoming an indelible part of this community. One of the few athletes known just by his first name – Franco ensured his legacy his rookie year when he attracted an army of local fans. National recognition followed with one of the greatest plays of all time, the Immaculate Reception, and Harris’s naming as NFL Rookie of the year.
His football career began in Mount Holly, New Jersey at Rancocas Valley Regional High School where Harris also competed in basketball and baseball. Recruited by Penn State, he led the team in scoring in 1970 and racked up 2002 career rushing yards and 24 touchdowns, as well as 352 receiving yards. His size, his quickness, and his ability to see the whole field and elude tacklers led the Steelers to draft Harris in the first round.
Harris became the power in the Steelers’ offensive machine, rushing for 1,000 yards or more in eight of his 12 seasons, including his rookie year. He created a magical moment on December 23, 1972. With just 22 seconds left in an AFC Divisional playoff game at Three Rivers Stadium, and with the Oakland Raiders leading the Steelers 7-6, quarterback Terry Bradshaw faced a fourth-and-10 situation from the 40-yard line. He dropped back to pass, but was flushed from the pocket. Spotting Frenchy Fuqua, Bradshaw sailed a pass down the middle. Fuqua and Oakland’s Jack Tatum reached for the ball; it popped from their arms, and was snatched up at shoelace level by running back Franco Harris. As Harris raced into the end zone, Three Rivers Stadium erupted in celebration. After a delay, the game officials ruled the play a touchdown, the Steelers kicked the extra point, and five seconds later, as time ran out, the Steelers emerged victorious 13-7. Considered one of the most acclaimed and controversial plays in all of sports history, the Immaculate Reception ushered in a new era in Steelers football.
The team went on to win four Super Bowls in six years, with Harris a key offensive threat. He rushed for 158 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl IX, single-handedly generating more offense than the Minnesota Vikings team. Named game MVP, he became the first African American and the first Italian American to receive that honor. Named to the Pro Bowl nine times, Harris racked up 12,120 yards and 91 touchdowns rushing, and added 2,287 yards and nine touchdowns receiving in the regular season. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990, he has only seen his legacy grow. No Steeler has worn #32 jersey since he retired and in 2019, the NFL Network crowned the Immaculate Reception as the greatest play of all time.
Learn more about the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers from the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the Heinz History Center.
This spotlight is a part of the Downtown Renown: Pittsburgh Sports Greats series. Learn more about the project, and look for all 14 sports profile windows in Downtown!
Arnold Palmer • Bill Mazeroski • Charles “Chuck” Cooper • Dan McCoy • Franco Harris • Honus Wagner • Joe Greene • John Woodruff • Josh Gibson • Mario Lemieux • Roberto Clemente • Suzie McConnell-Serio • Swin Cash • Sidney Crosby
📍 View this Pittsburgh Sports Great window installation at the Bank Tower, 307 Fourth Avenue, Downtown Pittsburgh.