The central figure of a legendary moment in Steelers history gets his due.
Pittsburgh will eliminate Franco Harris’ number 32 during the team’s half-time of the team’s Week 16 game against the Las Vegas Raiders, the team announced Tuesday.
“I am thrilled that we are going to honor Franco with this recognition by retiring his number 32 jersey,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a statement. “This is the 50th anniversary of one of the most memorable plays in NFL history; one that changed the course of our success with its ‘Immaculate Reception’ in 1972. My grandfather once said, ‘Before Franco came here, we “don’t win much; since he’s here, we don’t lose.” I think that sums it up pretty well.
“Franco’s impact on the franchise would be hard to overstate, so I think it’s appropriate and appropriate that we recognize Franco’s remarkable career by retiring his number 32 from our game on December 24.”
The setting — a prime-time game on Christmas Eve in Pittsburgh against the Raiders that airs on the NFL Network — is fitting for the retirement of the song carried by a pillar of the franchise. A modest club in its early years, Pittsburgh enjoyed a long-term shift toward legitimacy, beginning with the arrival of head coach Chuck Noll, defensive lineman Joe Greene, quarterback Terry Bradshaw and Harris. The last of that group made the most significant catch in Steelers history up to that point, grabbing a deflected pass from the tiny space left between his hands and the Three Rivers Stadium turf and taking it for a game-winning touchdown. to then get the Steelers past the Oakland Raiders to the AFC Championship Game.
Though its legitimacy is still questioned today, the piece was so significant that a statue of Harris taking the pass greets travelers arriving at Pittsburgh International Airport. It is synonymous with the rise of the Steelers and both their position in Pittsburgh and the NFL.
The Steelers lost to the undefeated Dolphins in the conference title game, but the win was Pittsburgh’s first after-season win in franchise history. From there, the Steelers became the dominant team of the 1970s, winning four Super Bowls between 1974 and 1979. As television coverage popularized the sport, Pittsburgh became a frequent focus of NFL coverage in the United States, and the loyal, passionate Steeler Nation was born.
It’s reasonable to wonder if that happens without Franco’s logic-defying touchdown reception. He has certainly earned his place in Steelers history, and decades after his retirement, the franchise will honor him accordingly.
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