Bill Cowher, Terry Bradshaw React to the Sudden Death of Steelers Legend Franco Harris

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - APRIL 28: Hall of Famer Franco Harris speaks during round one of the 2022 NFL Draft on April 28, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

The nation woke up to the heartbreaking news of the sudden death of Pittsburgh Steelers great Franco Harris on Wednesday, December 21. He was 72. His son, Franco “Dok” Harris, confirmed his death to the Associated Press. No cause of death was given.

Whether a football fan or not, you knew who Franco Harris was. After all, he authored the Immaculate Reception, the greatest play in NFL history.

Former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher was one of the first connected to the team to post a tribute on Twitter.

“We have lost an Icon in Franco Harris. He embodied Pgh in his Grace, Humility, & Sense of Pride. He was a Champion on the Field & Ambassador off it. Thank you Franco for setting the standard that we all strive to achieve as a Professional & as a Person. RIP & condolences to Dana.”

Terry Bradshaw joined NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” to share his memories of Harris.

“He was just a great guy,” Bradshaw said, holding back tears. “I’ve known him forever. It’s a sad day for sure.”

“He was the ultimate team guy. Ultimate. You don’t see that anymore.”

Bradshaw and Harris were teammates for 12 seasons before the running back closed out his career with the Seattle Seahawks.

“I had so much fun messing with him on his blocking and catching,” said Bradshaw. “He was a great teammate. He was a vocal guy on the sidelines. He was such a good man. Always smiling. A humble giant.”

The Steelers were planning a celebration of the Immaculate Reception, complete with the retirement of Franco Harris’ number 32 during halftime of Pittsburgh’s Christmas Eve matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders. The event was the day after the 50th anniversary of the iconic play, which occurred in the waning moments of the Steelers’ 13-7 win over the Oakland Raiders in the divisional playoff game.

“I find [his death] prothetic in a sense that [retiring his number] was to be the greatest moment in Franco’s retirement life,” said Bradshaw.

“Death is such sorrow, but at the same time, we celebrate death because we know he’s going to Heaven with all of our Steelers teammates. Will he be missed? Certainly. But we will celebrate him, and the Italian Stallion is going to a better place.”

Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth shared this touching message: “To the man who announced me as a Pittsburgh Steeler, May you Rest in Peace. Very thankful for our friendship and you always being there for me when I needed it. Penn State and Steeler Legend forever. May your legacy live on forever. RIP 32.”

The Pittsburgh Steelers released this statement from team president Art Rooney II.

The Immaculate Reception

Voted the greatest play in NFL history, the Immaculate Reception is a moment that has been, and will continue to be, played repeatedly.

In the final minutes of the 1972 AFC championship game, the Pittsburgh Steelers were trailing 7-6 to the Oakland Raiders.

It was 4th-and-10 with 22 seconds on the clock. The Steelers needed a miracle.

And they got one.

Bradshaw had to quickly escape the pocket when pass protection broke down. In a moment of desperation, Bradshaw threw a pass to John “Frenchy” Fuqua. It bounced off Raiders safety Jack Tatum and staggered toward the turf. But Harris got his fingers under it and sprinted 60 yards for the game-winning touchdown. It won Pittsburgh its first AFC championship game.

In a video tweet from Pittsburgh’s WTAE’s Ryan Recker, Harris said this about the play after the game. “Right place, right time. And a little bit of luck in catching the ball… believe me, at that point, I don’t think anything could’ve stopped me from going into the end zone.”

But Franco Harris was so much more than that iconic reception. Without Harris, the Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty may not have been. He was indispensable in the Steelers’ four Super Bowl victories in six seasons, scoring four touchdowns and averaging 117 yards rushing and receiving. Per Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo, he still holds Super Bowl records for most rushing yards (354) and rushing attempts (101) in the game’s history.

Harris was a three-time All-Pro, named to nine Pro Bowls and enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.

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