PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II was a 19-year-old college student at Duquesne when his father and grandfather drafted Franco Harris in the first round of the 1972 NFL Draft out of Penn State.
For the last 50 years, Rooney and Harris remained important parts of the Steelers organization and close friends. Wednesday, Rooney mourned the loss of the Hall of Fame running back after his death at the age of 72.
“It is difficult to find the appropriate words to describe Franco Harris’ impact on the Pittsburgh Steelers, his teammates, the City of Pittsburgh and Steelers Nation,” Rooney said in a statement. “From his rookie season, which included the Immaculate Reception, through the next 50 years, Franco brought joy to people on and off the field. He never stopped giving back in so many ways. He touched so many, and he was loved by so many. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Dana, his son Dok, and his extended family at this difficult time.”
The Steelers were set to honor Harris this week, with a bash planned on Friday for the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, and then retire Harris’ No. 32 jersey at halftime of the team’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday at Acrisure Stadium.
“I would say it’s a long overdue jersey retirement,” Rooney said in September when the announced the honor. “Given Franco’s remarkable contributions to the team of the decade. Many have said and I agree that the ‘Immaculate Reception’ marked the turning point in franchise history.
“My grandfather once was quoted as saying ‘before Franco got here, we didn’t win much, since he got here, we don’t lose.’ I think that sums it up pretty good. Franco’s impact on the franchise would be hard to overstate.”