Franco Harris was one of the most notable players in NFL history — along with one of the greatest. The recipient of the “Immaculate Reception” — voted as the the greatest play in NFL history — Harris died Wednesday at the age of 72.Harris helped the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s, finishing a Hall of Fame career with 12,120 rushing yards and 91 rushing touchdowns in 13 seasons. He also finished with 14,407 yards from scrimmage and 100 touchdowns, making the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1990. Harris earned nine Pro Bowl selections, was selected as a First Team All-Pro in 1977 and was a Second Team All-Pro twice (1972, 1975). He also led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in 1976. Harris died the week he was set to have his number retired by the Steelers, just the third player in franchise history to hold that distinction. Ernie Stautner (70) and Joe Greene (75) are the only two Steelers to have their numbers retired, although Pittsburgh hasn’t issued the No. 32 since Harris last played for the Steelers in 1982. How much did Franco Harris mean to the Steelers? The quote from current president Art Rooney II says it all.
“My Grandfather was once quoted as saying: ‘Before Franco got here, we didn’t win much, since he got here, we don’t lose.’ I think that sums it up pretty good.”This week’s “By The Numbers” pays tribute to Harris and his greatness. Most rushing yards in NFL history (at time Franco Harris retired in 1984)Walter Payton — 13,309Jim Brown — 12,312Franco Harris — 12,120O.J. Simpson — 11,236John Riggins — 10,675Most rushing TD in NFL history (at time Franco Harris retired in 1984)Jim Brown — 106John Riggins — 96Franco Harris — 91Walter Payton — 89Jim Taylor — 83Most scrimmage yards in NFL history (at time Franco Harris retired in 1984)Walter Payton — 16,765Jim Brown — 14,811Franco Harris — 14,407O.J. Simpson — 13,378John Riggins — 12,747Most scrimmage TD in NFL history (at time Franco Harris retired in 1984)Jim Brown — 126Lenny Moore — 111John Riggins — 108Don Hutson — 102Franco Harris — 100Harris had a phenomenal career with the Steelers, as he still remains the franchise’s all-time leader in rushing yards (11,950) and rushing touchdowns (91). Second only to Jerome Bettis (50) in 100-yard rushing games (47), Harris is also the all-time leader in yards from scrimmage in franchise history (14,234). He’s the only player in Steelers history with 100 touchdowns in a career. When Harris retired form the NFL in 1984, only five running backs rushed for 10,000 yards in the league. Only five players totaled 100 touchdowns in NFL history as well, as Harris became the fifth player to reach the century mark in scrimmage touchdowns.
The Steelers franchise changed since Harris arrived in Pittsburgh in 1972. Coming off eight consecutive losing seasons, Pittsburgh didn’t have a losing record in any of the 12 seasons Harris was there. The Steelers only had seven winning seasons as a franchise prior to 1972, making the playoffs just once in their history. The “Immaculate Reception” was the first postseason victory in Steelers franchise history — and the Steelers started in 1933. The Steelers have won 470 games since Harris arrived in 1972, the most in the NFL. Pittsburgh’s six championships since 1972 are tied for the most in the NFL. Harris is also one of the greatest postseason players in NFL history. Most rushing yards — Super Bowl historyFranco Harris — 354Larry Czonka — 297Emmitt Smith — 289Terrell Davis — 259John Riggins — 230Most rushing TD — Super Bowl history Emmitt Smith — 5Franco Harris — 4Thurman Thomas — 4John Elway — 4Terrell Davis — 3James White — 3Most rushing yards — NFL playoff historyEmmitt Smith — 1,586Franco Harris — 1,556Thurman Thomas — 1,442Tony Dorsett — 1,383Marcus Allen — 1,347Most rushing TD — NFL playoff historyEmmitt Smith — 19Franco Harris — 16Thurman Thomas — 16Terrell Davis — 12John Riggins — 12Marshawn Lynch — 12One of the best postseason performers of all time, Harris had four seasons with 1,000 rushing yards and a Super Bowl title — the most of any running back in NFL history (Emmitt Smith is second with three). Harris still has the fourth most rushing yards in a Super Bowl with 158, a mark that stood until John Riggins broke it in Super Bowl XVII (1982 season).
The MVP of Super Bowl IX (1974), Harris rushed for 158 yards and a touchdown in Pittsburgh’s 16-6 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Harris had five 100-yard rushing games in the postseason, tied for sixth all time as he was the first player in league history to have five 100-yard rushing games in the postseason. The Steelers were 14-5 in the 19 playoff games Harris played (.737 win percentage). Pittsburgh was 116-48-1 in 165 regular season games that Harris played (.703 win percentage). The 130-53-1 record in the 12 seasons Harris played accumulated to a .707 win percentage.Not only was Harris a great player, but a winner as well. Harris changed the fortune and the culture of the Steelers franchise, from the “Terrible Towels” that are waved around the stadium to the Super Bowl banners and standard of winning around the organization.
The Steelers are the Steelers because of Franco Harris.