Pittsburgh – Even as temperatures in Pittsburgh dropped to single digits, hundreds of Steelers fans came to Akrisor Stadium to watch and hear a replay of an immaculate reception at 3:41 p.m. – 50 years after Franco Harris’s great play.
Franco’s son Doc Harris was among them, smiling as he watched the play on a small TV and listened to the original radio broadcast of Jack Fleming’s play.
“I’ve heard that many times,” Doc Harris, speaking to ESPN, said of the radio call. “It’s really hard to process, but it’s been hitting really differently over the past few days. What’s also hard and beautiful is that this isn’t my mom’s thing and for me, it’s everyone’s thing.”
“My dad had a personal relationship with a lot of people, the city, this country, all over the world. And a lot of people are hurting and a lot of people are in mourning, and it’s really all family.”
The fans cheered loudly as Franco Harris scored the touchdown to seal the Steelers’ playoff victory, and soon a cheer of “Here we go, Franco!” in the Great Hall, an arena in the stadium filled with team memorabilia.
For Doc Harris, Friday’s memorial was yet another reminder of the relationship his father, who passed away this week at the age of 72, shared with so many people.
“It’s almost impossible to process that he can do so much for so many people personally,” Doc Harris told ESPN. “People [have been] They tell me stories about how they met him sometime in 1977 or 1987 or 1991. It was important to them, and it made a difference in their lives. And that really is the beauty of my father, really a very blessed soul who really sought to help everyone.”
Steelers running back Nagy Harris is one of those who had a special relationship with Franco Harris. Not only did the two connect by playing running back for the Steelers, but Naji Harris has privately appreciated Franco Harris for his approach to community outreach.
“He was a role model,” Nagy Harris said. “Obviously he was the icon here. He was more than just an athlete. He was a really important person, and in the organization, he turned a lot of things around. It’s the standard where we all talk about what it means to be a Pittsburgh Steeler. Not only that, it’s the standard of what it means to be human. The things he’s done here in the community, not just here, but just everywhere, try to give back what he can.”
With Franco Harris’ No. 32 jersey retired at halftime of the Steelers’ Christmas Eve game against the Las Vegas Raiders—the third number to be retired in franchise history—Najy Harris and teammate TJ Watt emphasized the importance and motivation of playing Saturday’s game to honor Franco Harris’ memory.
Watt said, “This was a huge match before news of Franco’s death got out, and now it’s clearly intensified even more. … I think tomorrow we’ll see the impact he has on people when the fans show up and show their appreciation for everything he’s done for Steeler Nation.”
Doc Harris is also spending the rest of the weekend continuing to honor and celebrate his father. After the Immaculate Reception, he and his family planned to move forward with his father’s annual Immaculate Reception Friday night, one filled with Steelers and Raiders alumni and Christmas carols, followed by attending the Steelers-Raiders game on Saturday and celebrating Jersey’s halftime retirement.
“I’m sad my dad isn’t here, but we’ll make sure we do it right because he loved throwing a good party,” said Doc Harris. “We’ll make sure we do it the way he wants it.”
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