c994d02922b4f232d0dcff70499775a7084fa52a NFL legend Franco Harris dies.
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NFL legend Franco Harris dies.


Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The author of "The Immaculate Reception," regarded as the most famous play in NFL history, Franco Harris, a Hall of Fame running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, has died at the age of 72, according to information that has been made public by the AP news outlet. Harris's son, Dok, broke the news by confirming his father's death to The Associated Press. No specific cause of death was revealed.

Pittsburgh will honour its No. 1 player, 32, in a ceremony during the second half of the Steelers' game against the Las Vegas Raiders, two days before the 50th anniversary of the play that helped the team rise from being a running back to the top of the NFL.

A dynasty that started in earnest when Harris chose to continue running during a last-second attempt by Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw in a playoff game against Oakland in 1972 resulted with Harris rushing for 12,120 yards and four Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1970s.

With 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter and Pittsburgh trailing 7-6, Bradshaw dropped back and hit running back French Fuqua with a long pass on fourth-and-10 from their own 40-yard line. As the ball travelled toward Harris up the field after a collision between Fuqua and Oakland's Jack Tatum, the news of Harris' passing was reported.

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound workhorse for Penn State, Harris, suddenly found himself in the middle of everything. In Pittsburgh's 16-6 victory over Minnesota in Super Bowl IX, he rushed for a then-record 158 yards and a touchdown on his way to taking home the game's MVP honours. His 354 career rushing yards on the NFL's biggest stage still stand as a record nearly four decades after his retirement. He scored at least once in three of the four Super Bowls he participated in.

Harris, who was born on March 7th, 1950 in Fort Dix, New Jersey, participated in collegiate sports at Penn State. His main responsibility there was to create space for fellow outfielder Lydell Mitchell. In the late phases of their rebuild under Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll, the Steelers recognised enough potential in Harris to choose him with the 13th overall pick in the 1972 draft. 

Regarding his frequent roommates on team road trips, Steelers Hall of Fame wide receiver Lynn Swann stated, "When (Noll) drafted Franco Harris, he gave the offence heart, gave it discipline, gave it drive, and gave it the opportunity to win a championship in Pittsburgh.

Harris had an instant effect. He set a rookie team record by rushing for 1,055 yards and 10 touchdowns in 1972, helping the Steelers make the playoffs for the second time in the team's history. He went on to win the NFL Rookie of the Year award. Two local businessmen established what became known as "Franco's Italian Army," a tribute to Harris' heritage as the son of an African-American father and an Italian mother, and the city's sizable Italian-American community quickly welcomed Harris. 

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