Posts Tagged ‘Franco Harris’

The “Immaculate Reception” will live on forever in Pittsburgh. Now too, will the number of the author of the most iconic play in NFL history.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will retire Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris’ No. 32 on Christmas Eve, 50 years and one day after he plucked the ball out of the air and raced down the sideline to the end zone to pull out a stunning playoff victory over the Oakland Raiders.

The honor marks the third time in franchise history the Steelers will retire a number. They previously retired the No. 75 of Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene and the No. 70 of Hall of Fame defensive tackle Ernie Stautner.

“It’s about time they had an offensive guy on the list,” Harris said with a laugh on Tuesday.

Harris spent all but one of his 13 seasons in the NFL in Pittsburgh, arriving as a rookie out of Penn State in 1972 to a team attempting to escape decades of mediocrity. The Steelers reached the 1972 playoffs thanks in part to Harris’ 1,055 yards rushing, but found themselves trailing 7-6 in the waning seconds and facing fourth-and-10 at the Pittsburgh 40 with just 22 seconds to go.

Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw let loose a desperate heave in the direction of running back Frenchy Fuqua. The ball caromed off Oakland defensive back Jack Tatum and appeared to be fluttering incomplete before Harris grabbed it inches before hitting the turf. He then took off down the sideline to complete a 60-yard touchdown that sealed a 13-7 win and set off chaos at Three Rivers Stadium.

While Harris ran for 12,120 yards and won four Super Bowls, he knows he is forever linked to the play that turned the fortunes of a franchise forever. Pittsburgh had never won a playoff game before Harris sprinted into NFL lore. The Steelers now have six Super Bowl titles, tied with New England for the most in league history.

“The ‘Immaculate Reception’ marked the turning point in franchise history,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said. “My grandfather (Art Rooney Sr.) used to always say, ‘We never won until Franco got here. We never lost after he arrived.’”

There will be two ceremonies to honor Harris. One will be at exactly 3:29 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 23 at the plaque at the spot in now-bygone Three Rivers Stadium where Harris caught the ball. The other will be a ceremony at halftime of Pittsburgh’s Christmas Eve game against the Raiders, now based in Las Vegas.

The Steelers will wear a patch commemorating the play during the game and don throwback jerseys the team wore during the 1972 season.

All because Harris saw a ball in the air and remembered the advice of his college coach, Joe Paterno.

“Play to the end,” Harris said. “Never give up. Believe things can happen … and always go to the ball.”

Legendary Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll, who guided the team to four Super Bowl titles in his 23-year tenure with the team, was reportedly found dead Friday night at the age of 82, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

Noll was found unresponsive by his wife, Marianne, at 9:45 p.m. ET. She called 911, and paramedics pronounced him dead at 9:55 p.m.

After a 1-13 season as a rookie head coach, Noll turned the Steelers’ ship around and guided the team to the postseason in his fourth season. A few years later, the team became one of the all-time NFL dynasties. The Steelers were the team of the 1970s under his stewardship, winning four titles in a six-year span from 1974 to 1979.

“Chuck Noll is the best thing to happen to the Rooneys since they got on the boat in Ireland,” said Art Rooney Jr., the oldest son of Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr.

Noll compiled a regular-season coaching record of 193-149-1 up through his final season in 1991, and a postseason mark of 16-8. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame in 1993.

A highly regarded high-school player, Noll played collegiately at Dayton and was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 193. Noll spent seven seasons wih the Browns as a guard and linebacker, collecting eight interceptions — five in 1955 — in 77 career games played.

Noll got his coaching start with the San Diego Chargers as their defensive line coach in 1960 and 1961, later becoming their defensive coordinator. He later became Don Shula’s defensive coordinator with the Baltimore Colts and oversaw the 1968 defense that allowed an NFL-fewest 144 points for a team that ultimately lost in Super Bowl III to the New York Jets.

The following season, Noll was given a chance by the Rooney family to coach the Steelers once Penn State’s Joe Paterno turned down the job. Shula gave Noll a strong recommendation to Art Rooney, and a dynasty was born.

Noll started putting together the pieces of the famed “Steel Curtain” defense, and by 1972 — with quarterback Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris in place on the offensive side — the team began an eight-year run of dominance and a regular-season mark of 88-27-1 and playoff appearances in each of those seasons.

Although the team took a dip in the 1980s, as most of the legendary group of the decade before aged, the Steelers still made the playoffs four times in the decade and suffered only two losing seasons. Noll retired following the 1991 season, and he remains one of the most beloved figures in Pittsburgh sports history.

In the 23 years prior to Noll being hired, the Steelers had seven head coaches. After Noll’s 23-year reign, the team has had two since him — Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin, both of whom have won one Super Bowl.

Noll kept as low a profile as possible during his coaching career, often turning down endorsement offers and not seeking the media spotlight. He laid even lower after retirement but remained a revered football figure. Severe back pain made it difficult for Noll to get around in recent years, and he was forced to walk with the use of canes. He had been under doctor’s care recently for an undisclosed ailment.

Noll leaves his wife, Marianne; his son, Chris; and two grandchildren, Katie, and Connor.