Dr. Edna B. McKenzie Branch
P.O. Box 17476
Pittsburgh, PA 15235
With sadness and deep regret, I would like to inform you of the passing of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame running back, Franco Harris. Franco died overnight Tuesday, December 20th.
The cause of death is unknown at this time.
Franco was a key ingredient in the Steelers winning four Super Bowls in six years Franco was a nine time Pro Bowler and member of the NFL’s All Decade Team for the 1970’s.
The Steeler teams that Franco Harris played on were arguably among the greatest teams in NFL history. Art Rooney, Sr. built a dynasty with his two most important hires in Steelers history with the hiring of Charles Chuck Noll and Bill Nunn, Jr. Both coach Noll and super scout Bill Nunn, Jr. would have outstanding careers and both were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Franco was part of the resurrection of the Pittsburgh Steelers football.
Franco grew up in New Jersey and played his high school ball at Rancocas Valley Regional High School in Mount Holly New Jersey. Franco was offered a full football scholarship by the great Joe Paterno to Penn State, Franco starred at Penn State where his backfield mate was All American, Lydell Mitchell.
The Steelers selected Franco as their number one draft choice in the 1972 draft. Franco blazed many paths around NFL stadiums for an outstanding 12,120 yards for thirteen seasons and scored an amazing 91 touchdowns.
On January 12, 1975, Franco Harris was the first African American as well as the first Italian American to be named Super Bowl MVP.
Franco was the consummate warrior on the gridiron and was an effective inside and outside runner, great blocker and an excellent receiver.
I recall that the playoff game between the Steelers and Raiders at Three Rivers Stadium in December 1972 was blacked out. So my wife and I had to travel to Sharon Pennsylvania to watch the game in a Holiday Inn. We witnessed Franco catch that famous Immaculate Reception pass. This Immaculate Reception Play by Franco Harris would lift the Steelers’ franchise out of the dark ages into a robust new beginning.
Dr. Edna B. McKenzie Branch member, Diane Carroll’s husband Joe Carroll was playing for the Oakland Raiders and was on the field of play during the catch made by Franco Harris in 1972. Joe Carroll was an outstanding linebacker at the University of Pittsburgh.
The Heinz History Center is holding a special event on December 22nd notably titled: Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception: 50 Years Later. As a member of the African Advisory Council to the Senator John Heinz History, I advised the History Center to interview Joe Carroll for their 50th Anniversary Commemoration Program on the Immaculate Reception. Franco was supposed to be on the program with other Steelers and Raiders. Raiders linebacker, Phil Villiapiano is also scheduled to be at the History Center on December 22 along with Joe Carroll and Mrs. Carroll.
Franco Harris was a vibrant part of the culture of Pittsburgh.
I recall Franco Harris and Steelers Robin Cole stood on the stage in public support for US presidential candidate Jesse Jackson during an April, 1984 noontime rally in downtown Pittsburgh, Market Square.
Franco was a relentless backer of Justice Cynthia Baldwin whenever she ran for the various judgeships. Franco was unwavering in his support of Cynthia Baldwin, a renowned jurist.
As a member of the Pittsburgh City League All Sports Hall of Fame, Selection Committee, I nominated, the oldest Black Olympian medal winner in the US, Herb Douglas to be a member of the Class of 2015. Mr. Douglas was unable to attend the induction ceremony at the Wyndham Pittsburgh University Center and Franco Harris enthusiastically and willingly stood in for Mr. Douglas. Mr. Douglas, a Taylor Allderdice High School graduate was All City and won back to back State Championships in the 220 Yard Dash. Mr. Douglas also won the Bronze Medal in the1948 Olympics in the Broad Jump or Long Jump.
Franco Harris was also a great supporter of CEIR, the “Corporate Equity & Inclusion Roundtable”.
Franco Harris was truly a renaissance man who fell In love with the Pittsburgh region. Franco gave back to his community in a positive manner. When the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers and City of Pittsburgh is written, it will show that Franco Harris, the man from Mount Holly New Jersey invigorated new life into the Steelers and helped to resuscitate the franchise and the City.
Our prayers, condolences and deepest sympathies are extended to the family of Franco Harris. We will keep you in our thoughts and hearts.
Ronald Brooks Saunders
Dr. Edna B. McKenzie Branch
ASALH- Branch of The Year for 2022