PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked on Tuesday about his thoughts and memories of the Immaculate Reception and Franco Harris, ahead of this weekend’s scheduled festivities to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic play and the retirement of Harris’ No. 32 jersey.
Little did he know, those would be his final remarks on Harris before his death at the age of 72 on Wednesday.
“He’s just a special man,” Tomlin said. “Forget the player. Obviously, I never knew the player. I know the man and just what an awesome representation of this organization, this community, a guy that embraces all the responsibility that comes with being him.”
Tomlin called Harris’ 1972 Immaculate Reception the greatest play in the history of the NFL, and commented on the way it changed Pittsburgh football and the Steelers forever, as well as propelling Harris to his Hall of Fame career.
“It’s just one of those beautiful things in the history of our game,” Tomlin said. “It’s humbling to be in close proximity to it, to work for this organization, to understand its impact on this organization, the career it spawned in Franco [Harris], a gold-jacket career, what it did for them that season in terms of changing the trajectory of that season, what it’s done for this franchise… There are many things that make it the play that it is and the most significant play in the history of our game.”
Tomlin said that today’s Steelers, even though they are several generations removed from those that would have watched Harris play, are well aware of the man and his accomplishments thanks to the emergence of Youtube and the ease of watching old plays and highlights that Tomlin didn’t have when he was their age.
“They’re aware,” he said. “They’re aware of Franco, they’re aware of the Immaculate Reception and they’re aware of the significance of it.”
The Steelers have not formally acknowledged Harris’ death. The team has a practice scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side.