Franco Harris was one of the greats in the NFL who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Franco Harris was born in Fort Dix, New Jersey, on March 7, 1950. He was the son of Cad and Gina Harris. His father was an African American soldier who served in World War II and his mother was Italian who he met and married during the war.
Harris grew up in New Jersey, and earned a scholarship to play football at Penn State University. While there, he became an All-American fullback. His collegiate success in football allowed him to be drafted by the Steelers in the 1972 NFL draft. During that first year of play, he was named the NFL Rookie of the Year.
Although most associated Harris as being African American, he became popular with Pittsburgh’s Italian American population. His fans in that community dubbed themselves as “Franco’s Italian Army”; one of which included Frank Sinatra. Many of these fans would wear army helmets with his number on them to show their support.
Harris was involved in one of pro football’s most famous and controversial plays called the “Immaculate Reception,” in the 1972 AFC playoffs. During this game, with only 22 seconds left, a throw by the Steelers’ quarterback bounced off one of the opponents and Harris caught it just before it hit the ground to run it in for the game winning touchdown. This began the dynasty the Steelers would have in the NFL. In the Pittsburgh airport there is a statue of Harris and the Immaculate Reception.
Franco Harris was chosen for nine consecutive Pro Bowls and was the MVP of Super Bowl IX. This made him the first African American and the first Italian-American to be named Super Bowl MVP.
Harris’s career ended after 13 years and four Super Bowl Championships. He was later inducted into the professional football Hall of Fame in 1990. He currently holds the all time leader in rushing yards for the Steelers and ranks 12th on the NFL rushing yardage list, as well as ranking 10th on the NFL rushing touchdowns list. In honor of his mixed racial heritage John Grisham, a famous author, refers to Franco as the “greatest Italian football player.”
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