Franco Harris is dead, but the “Immaculate Reception” lives in the minds of football fans forever

Franco Harris, who made the “Immaculate Reception” part of the football lexicon as the most exciting play in football, has died.

He was 72 and he died in his sleep, his son Dok said. 

Harris became a hero after he made the catch on December 23, 1972, at Three Rivers Stadium which helped the Steelers win their first-ever playoff game in a 13-7 victory over the Oakland Raiders. 

The catch was called the “Immaculate Reception.”

The catch unfolded with the Steelers trailing 7-6 and facing fourth-and-10 on its their own 40-yard line with 22 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

Outback Terry Bradshaw drifted back and threw deep to running back John “Frenchy” Fuqua.

Fuqua and Oakland defensive back Jack Tatum collided, sending the ball careening back toward midfield in the direction of Harris.

While nearly everyone else on the field stopped, Harris kept his legs running, snatching the ball just inches above the Three Rivers Stadium turf near the Oakland 45, then outracing several stunned Raiders defenders to give the Steelers their first playoff win in the franchise’s four-decade history. 

The clock ran out and Harris was mobbed by fans. People jumped out of the stands to embrace or touch Franco.

Franco was later a member of “Franco’s Italian Army” although his father was Black and his mother was Italian.

Harris was a cornerstone of the Steelers dynasty that won four Super Bowls in the 1970s.

In Super Bowl IX, when the Steelers won their first-ever league title with a 16-6 victory over Minnesota, Harris rushed for 158 yards, compared to 17 yards for the entire Viking team.

Pittsburgh is scheduled to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception on Saturday when the Steelers host the Las Vegas Raiders on Christmas Eve when Harris’s famous number 32 will be retired.