When the Pittsburgh Steelers draft running back Najee Harris with their first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, he entered a very exclusive fraternity, as Harris became the fourth Steelers first-round running back since the 1972 NFL Draft, when it was Franco Harris to hear his named called first by the Black and Gold.
Starting from the moment Harris first landed in Pittsburgh, when he took a picture with the Franco Harris statue at Pittsburgh International Airport, the two Harrises formed a special connection that grew throughout the intervening years until Franco Harris’ death at the age of 72 on Wednesday.
“Franco’s cool man, he’s hella cool,” Harris said. “One time, we had an event at Sullivan’s and he pops up out of the blue, and I mean randomly. When I mean randomly, they had their own event going on. … He left his own Alumni Weekend to come to my event. I was like dang, he’s hella cool for that! Franco’s a cool guy. He texts me every night. Franco’s funny as hell, and cool as hell. He’s like family, a great guy.”
Najee was close with Franco, who the bond developed with over time. He knew of the Immaculate Reception before coming to Pittsburgh, but never knew the scope of it and how important it was until he finally arrived in the city. Meeting and talking to Franco helped sink that in.
“For that to happen, and have the anniversary here, you know with him being such a good guy in the community and football world as the icon he is, that’s really big not just for the organization but for the football world. It’s one of the most important plays in the history of the game,” Najee Harris said.
The Steelers were set to honor the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception on Saturday and retire Harris’ No. 32 jersey on Saturday this week. Those remembrances will become even more poignant as the Steelers and NFL community now mourn his death.