Minus “Big Man” retired Steelers uniform number Franco Harris in an emotional ceremony

In a ceremony that was as immaculate as the famous reception that spawned a pro football career, the Pittsburgh Steelers retired the late Franco Harris’ uniform number Saturday night.

The festivities, which coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, took on a mournful tone due to Harris’ unexpected death earlier in the week at the age of 72.

Harris’ wife Dana Dokmanovic and son Franco “Doc” Harris accompanied team president Art Rooney II to the podium at the halftime ceremony of the Steelers’ game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Harris’ number was the third retired by the franchise.

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” Rooney said, his voice cracking with emotion. “The big guy should have stood by me. I want to thank Dana and Doc for sharing Franco with us over the past 50 years.”

Dana and Doc were at Ronnie’s sides and reached out behind him and kissed his hands.

“It has been said that life will bring you sorrow, and it is up to us to bring you joy,” said Rooney. “Franco has brought us joy for 50 years. In recognition of his many contributions on and off the field, I am honored to officially announce the number 32 is retired.”


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Fans at Acrisure Stadium also chanted “Franco, Franco, Franco!” In the 8-degree cold, Rooney II hugged Dokmanović, who leaned on his shoulder for comfort.

The field with Rooney and the Harris family was taken over by a dozen Steelers players from the 1972 team that defeated the Oakland Raiders, 13-7, in a divisional playoff thanks to Harris winning the game on a deflected pass.

Among those in attendance were Hall of Famers Joe Greene and Mel Blount, as well as John “Frenchy” Fuqua, whose collision with Raiders safety Jack Tatum resulted in the deflection that led to Harris’ 60-yard touchdown in that playoff game 50 years ago.

Blount, who was wearing a traditional cowboy hat, used an awesome towel to wipe a tear from his eye during the ceremony.

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The 1972 Steelers watched a clip of an immaculate reception before Franco Harris’ number was retired at the end of the first half of a Raiders game on Saturday, December 24, 2022 at Akrisor Stadium.

After a video tribute to Harris’ career was shown on the scoreboard, the members of the 1972 team stood up and waved awesome towels as the ceremony concluded. Fans kept chanting Harris’ name as the players were escorted off the field.

For viewers at home, Harris’ tribute was cut short when NFL Network, which televised the game nationally, was cut to commercials. Representatives for NFL Network did not respond to a request for comment on the timing of the commercial break. Although KDKA-TV carried the game locally, KDKA did not control the telecast originating over the NFL Network.

The Steelers also paid tribute to Harris throughout the game in some 32 other ways on Saturday:

• Coach Mike Tomlin and the players wore jerseys number 32 as they headed to the locker room for the match.

• Defensive Tackle Cameron Hayward, the team’s longest serving player and friend of Harris, was the last to emerge from the tunnel for pregame introductions, running onto the court with a large No. 32 flag flying in a 16-mile-per-hour wind.


Cameron Hayward of the Steelers carries the 32nd flag in honor of Franco Harris before playing the Raiders on Saturday, December 24, 2022 at Akrisor Stadium.

• Fuqua, the intended target of Terry Bradshaw’s pass on an immaculate reception, led a terrible pre-game towel cycle on the sideline.

• Immaculate Reception restarted two minutes after the first half warning.

• 32 large black and white banners were unfurled on each round surrounding the end zone.

The Steelers also held a minute’s silence in memory of Harris before singing the national anthem.

Joe Rutter is a writer for the Tribune-Review. You can contact Joe via email at jrutter@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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