PITTSBURGH — In an emotional halftime ceremony, the Steelers officially retired No. 32, putting Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris in a company with Joe Greene and Ernie Stautner as the only three players to have their numbers retired in Steelers history.
On hand was Harris’ wife Dana and his son, Dok, to receive the jersey from Steelers team president Art Rooney II. Alongside the podium were former teammates of Harris, including Frenchy Fuqua and Joe Greene, who had flown into Pittsburgh for the Immaculate Reception. In a speech, Rooney got emotional.
“It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” Rooney said. “The big man was supposed to be here right beside me, accepting this jersey…. with that officially said, I officially declare No. 32 retired.”
Rooney appeared tearful and Harris’ family cradled together after being handed the jersey. Following the speech, a replay of the Immaculate Reception played on the jumbotron. Raucous cheers accompanied it, with a loud ‘Franco’ chant echoing throughout the stadium. On a weekend that was supposed to be full of celebration, it ended with a somber note on the retirement of his jersey. Throughout the week, teammates expressed shock and hurt by Harris’ passing.
“This is like a bad dream,” Greene said. “I’d like to wake up and find that it’s all untrue, what I’ve been experiencing the last 10-15 hours.”
Franco Harris is now immortal in the halls of the Steelers with his jersey retirement. Although bittersweet, his teammates also took part in a terrible towel-waving following the ceremony as they tried to ramp up the stadium. On Saturday, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey declared the day as ‘Franco Harris Day’ to celebrate the life and career of Harris.
“Today the Steelers will retire Franco Harris’ #32 Jersey,” Gainey wrote. “Franco was a living legend from the Immaculate Reception to his work as an ambassador for Pittsburgh — Franco always showed up. Therefore I declare today Franco Harris Day.”
With all the shock in mind, it was a ceremony that remained somber and close to the vest. But it is a moment that everyone involved seemed to appreciate it for what it was, which was a celebration of Harris’ life and accomplishments with the Pittsburgh Steelers.