PITTSBURGH — Even as temperatures in Pittsburgh dipped into the single digits, hundreds of Steelers fans poured into Acrisure Stadium to watch and listen to the replay of Immaculate Reception at 3:41 p.m. — 50 years after Franco Harris’ remarkable play.
Doc Harris, Franco’s son, was among them, smiling as he watched the play on a small television and listened to Jack Fleming’s original radio broadcast play-by-play.
“I’ve heard it so many times,” Dok Harris, who spoke to ESPN, said of the radio call. “It’s really hard to process, but it’s hit me very differently these past few days. What’s hard and what’s also beautiful is that this is not for my mom and for me, this is for everyone.
“My dad had such a personal relationship with so many people, this city, this country, all over the world. And a lot of people are hurting and a lot of people are grieving, and they’re really all family.”
Fans cheered loudly when Franco Harris scored the touchdown to seal the Steelers’ playoff victory, and soon a ”Here we go, Franco!” chant broke out in the Great Hall, a stadium gathering filled with team memorabilia.
For Dok Harris, Friday’s anniversary was another reminder of the connection his father, who died this week aged 72, shared with so many people.
“It’s almost impossible to process that he could give so much to so many people personally,” Dok Harris told ESPN. “People [have been] tell stories about how they met him sometime in 1977 or 1987 or 1991. It was important to them, and it made a difference in their lives. And that’s really the beauty of my father, really a very blessed soul who really tried to help everybody.”
Steelers running back Najee Harris is one of those who had a special relationship with Franco Harris. Not only did the two bond over playing running back for the Steelers, but Najee Harris especially appreciated Franco Harris for his approach to community outreach.
“He was the role model,” Najee Harris said. “He was obviously the icon here. He was more than just an athlete. He was a really important person, and in the organization he turned so many things around. He’s the standard where we all talked about what it is to be a Pittsburgh Steeler. Not just that, he’s the standard of what it is to be a human being. The things he did here in the community, not just here, but just everywhere, he tried to give back as much as he could.”
With Franco Harris’ No. 32 jersey set to be retired at halftime of the Steelers’ Christmas Eve game against the Las Vegas Raiders — just the third number in franchise history — Najee Harris and teammate TJ Watt emphasized the importance and motivation of playing Saturday’s game to honor Franco Harris’ memory.
“This was a huge game before the news of Franco’s passing even hit,” Watt said, “and now it’s obviously picked up more… I think we’ll see tomorrow just the impact he had on people when fans show up and shows appreciation for all he has done for Steeler Nation.”
Even Doc Harris is spending the rest of the weekend continuing to honor and celebrate his father. After the Immaculate Reception replay, he and his family planned to continue with his father’s annual Immaculate Reception reunion party Friday night, one filled with Steelers and Raiders alumni and Christmas carols, followed by attending the Steelers-Raiders game on Saturday and celebrating the halftime jersey retirement.
“I’m sorry my dad isn’t here, but we’re going to make sure we do it right because he loved throwing a good party,” Dok Harris said. “We’re going to make sure we do it the way he would have wanted it.”