PITTSBURGH — Franco Harris never expected to have his uniform number retired by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and for a long time, who could blame him? After all, the Steelers don’t retire uniform numbers.
That was the case for a long time, as the club let over 40 years pass from its four Super Bowl winners of the 1970s without adding an untouchable jersey number to the list. The Steelers did other things instead to honor those players, taking uniform numbers of famous Steelers players out of circulation and instituting a Hall of Honor to recognize the accomplishments of the franchise’s greats.
That changed a bit in 2014, when the Steelers retired the No. 75 of defensive lineman Joe Greene, to go along with Ernie Stautner’s No. 70 from the 1960s. But even then, it wasn’t something that Harris really considered as a possibility.
“In my wildest dreams, I never expected it,” Harris said at a press conference announcing the retirement on Tuesday. “It never crossed my mind. It just wasn’t something that was top of mind to even think about. The Steelers don’t retire numbers so you just don’t have any thoughts about it. So when Art mentioned it to me, I was blown away. I mean that was a wow moment and unbelievable.”
Greene, the unquestioned leader of those 1970s Steelers and the player whose selection to the team by Chuck Noll became a turning point for the history of the franchise, was an obvious first choice.
After that? Harris’ accomplishments were along the lines of many Steelers players of his era, like fellow Hall of Famers Mel Blount, Terry Bradshaw, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Lynn Swann. Harris acknowledged the tough choice the Steelers had to make about who would be net.
“I am blown away,” Harris said. “I’d like to thank Art and the Rooney family for this honor. Thank you very, very much. I know this confirmation was a tough one, because there are a number of players who could have been honored.”
What eventually settled the decision for the Steelers was the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception and that play’s status as a line of demarcation between the generally bad Steelers teams of the 1930s through 1960s and the franchise that became one of the greatest in the history of the league staring with four straight titles in the 1970s.
Steelers president Art Rooney II said that his grandfather, team founder Art Rooney Sr., recognized the impact Harris had on the team at the time.
“My grandfather used to say, ‘Before Franco got here, we didn’t win much. Since he got here, we don’t lose,’” the younger Rooney recalled. “I think that sums it up pretty good. Franco’s impact on this franchise would be hard to overstate.”