PITTSBURGH — Pat Freiermuth knew who Franco Harris was almost immediately after he stepped on Penn State’s campus. A legend both in State College and in Pittsburgh, Harris made himself known to Freiermuth early on in his football career. By the time he got to Pittsburgh, Freiermuth knew plenty about him, but it really intensified once Freiermuth ended up in Steel City.
Their relationship became so strong that Freiermuth was invited over to Harris’ house to have dinner with him and his wife, Dana. Harris was so involved in everything Pittsburgh and Penn State related that often times, Freiermuth and Harris would cross paths more times than they could count.
“I built the relationship with him over time and we became so close,” Freiermuth said. “You fly into the Pittsburgh airport and you see his statue, no other places have that. He means so much to Pittsburgh and it makes this all so cruel. Me, I have a relationship with him, and everyone in the locker room, know him. He was one of the first people I was told to follow, to follow his legacy to be a Steeler.”
To the man who announced me as a Pittsburgh Steeler, May you Rest in Peace. Very thankful for our friendship and you always being there for me when I needed it. Penn State and Steeler Legend forever. May your legacy live on forever. RIP 32.🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/95ajLaiD7M
— Pat Freiermuth (@pat_fry5) December 21, 2022
Back at Penn State, the walls would be adorned with pictures of Harris. Consistently around the program, Freiermuth felt Harris’ impact daily. So, when he was drafted to the Steelers, it became an honor to hear Harris say his name, even if the pronunciation of his last name was a little bit off.
“He’s a big figure everywhere in the state of Pennsylvania I think,” Freiermuth said. “His picture is in the building at Penn State, and he is known at Penn State. Every Penn Stater knows Franco Harris, and he claimed Penn State as his roots. When I got drafted, I instantly knew (he was a Penn State legend). I was a little mad at him for pronouncing my name wrong.”
Oftentimes, Freiermuth would host Harris on his radio show with Craig Wolfey. At times, Harris would stick back no other reason to just talk and share stories with the both of them. It showcased a type of warmth and affected that Harris had. Freiermuth’s relationship grew from there, and the early development of Freiermuth as a player and person in the NFL is largely tied to Harris. In fact, Harris saw him just earlier this week and he was looking forward to seeing him on Saturday.
“Me seeing him earlier this week and he was talking about how excited he was for the event and how he was looking forward to seeing everyone, seeing all his teammates,” Freiermuth said. “Everyone in Pittsburgh being there for one sole reason, retiring his jersey, he was definitely excited,” Freiermuth said. “It’s a weird way of going about it now, but he’ll be there in spirit and hopefully his wife, Dana, is there, and we can honor her and honor her husband’s legacy and do anything possible to honor that.”
The locker room is reeling after the loss of Harris. Cam Heyward paid tribute to him as well earlier. It seems the impact that Harris made was far and wide throughout the Pittsburgh community. At Penn State, that effect was felt much to the same effect. Former Penn State linebacker felt his impact, too.
“Just in that community, you felt his impact,” Freiermuth said. “You look at a guy like that and he’s an icon. Franco Harris is a great guy. This is really sad. He was a great guy.”
Pittsburgh will wear their hearts on their sleeves and a Franco Harris patch on Saturday as they pay tribute to Harris on the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception.