Franco Harris will be the last Pittsburgh Steelers player ever to wear the uniform No. 32, as his jersey will be officially retired by the team this December to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Harris’ Immaculate Reception.
Harris wore No. 34 at Penn State and again with the Seattle Seahawks, where he played one season to finish his career in 1984. He chose 32 with the Steelers to honor Jim Brown, and so now no one in Cleveland or Pittsburgh will ever wear those digits again.
No player has worn 32 in a game for the Steelers since Harris left the team following the 1983 season. So Harris will be the last, but he was not the first. What about the Steelers players that wore No. 32 before Harris?
None of them had anywhere near the impact of Harris, with not even one of the group playing with the team for more than one season, but they have some stories to tell. Here’s the highlights of the Steelers’ other 32s:
Hubie Bryant, 1970
Bryant was a rarity in that he wore 32 as a wide receiver. A Pittsburgh native and Penn Hills alum, he played his college ball at Minnesota before joining the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent in 1968. Two years later, he caught on with his hometown Steelers.
Bryant played in 14 games for the Steelers in 1970 and made seven starts. He as the team’s primary punt returner, hauling in 37 kicks for 159 yards, and also made eight catches for 154 yards — an impressive 19.3 yard per reception average.
The Steelers waived Bryant in 1971 in a contract dispute and he was claimed by the New England Patriots. He played 13 more games with New England, but a hamstring problem ended his NFL career. He later played in the World Football League.
After his career, Bryant coached both football and track and field with stops collegially at Norfolk State and at local high schools Penn Hills, Shaler, Westinghouse and Wilkinsburg.
Joe Womack, 1962
The Steelers’ 13th-round pick in 1960 NFL Draft out of Los Angeles State, Womack was a halfback that took a couple years to catch on with the team. He finally did so in 1962, and he played in 11 games and made 10 starts that year, rushing 128 times for 468 yards and five touchdowns. He also caught six passes for 57 yards. Despite starting all but one of the team’s games in 1962, Womack was cut before the start of the season in 1963. Such were the pre-Chuck Noll Steelers.
Charlie Gauer, 1943
Gauer played three seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1943-45, but that meant that in 1943, he was technically part of the Steagles, the combined Pittsburgh and Philadelphia team due to shortages of personnel because of the war effort. Gauer played in nine games for the Steagles and made one start, rushing 12 times for 69 yards and catching two passes for 18 yards.
Tom Brown, 1942
A Butler, Pa. native, Brown played one season with the Steelers in 1942 as an end. He played in nine games and caught four passes for 69 yards. Brown also scored a touchdown on a lateral. Brown played college football at William & Mary, quit school to go home and work in a mill and asked to try out for the Steelers after reading that they were short on bodies for training camp.
Harry Marker, 1934
A Ligonier, Pa. native and West Virginia alum, Marker played one game with the Steelers in the 1934 season, before deciding to leave football and pursue a military career. Marker ended up serving in the US Army through World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Marker’s lone game with Pittsburgh, then known as the Pirates, was a 13-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds, making him the only undefeated player on this list. The Steelers finished 1-10 without Marker the rest of the season.
It’s fitting that the jersey number worn by the inspiration of Franco’s Italian Army was first worn by someone made more famous for serving in the actual Army.
The Steelers media guide lists the following players as having worn No. 32, and many other outlets have repeated those claims, but I don’t believe any of them actually wore the jersey in a regular-season game.
Ken Liberto, 1969
Another wide receiver, Liberto was the club’s 15th round pick out of Louisiana Tech in 1969. He was waived on Sept. 5, before the season began.
Byron McCane, 1968
A Cleveland native, McCane played a bunch of minor-league football in the late 1960s and joined the Steelers for training camp in 1968, but was released on the day before the start of the season.
Willie Simpson, 1961
Simpson joined the Steelers as a rookie out of San Francisco State and had an impressive training camp, nearly winning a job, but was one of the team’s final cuts. He went on to have a nice season with the Oakland Raiders in the AFL in 1962.
Ted Wianowski, 1956
Wianowski is listed in the Steelers’ media guide as having worn 32 in 1956, but I can’t find any record of him even existing, let alone playing in a regular season game. He’s not on the Steelers all-time roster, the NFL or Pro Football Reference databases, and I can’t even find any newspaper articles written about him. This one is a total mystery.
Ben Vaznelis, 1942
Vaznelis spent just one week with the Steelers on the verge of the 1942 season. He joined the club in some type of a trade with the Brooklyn Dodgers on Sept. 1, though the return was not reported in the Pittsburgh newspapers. He was released on Sept. 9, four days before the start of the season.