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Franco Harris Biography

Franco Harris Biography

By Loot, NFL Handicapper,

It's a little surprising how Franco Harris is left out of most discussions as to who the greats are at the history of the RB position. His greatness and legacy, while secure, seem to have dissipated over time--strange for a 9-time Pro Bowler and 4-time Super Bowl champion. An integral part of one of the NFL's great dynasties, the 70's Pittsburgh Steelers, Harris' accomplishments continue to inspire wonder.

Harris began his career by running for 1000-yard seasons in 7 of his first 8 seasons. He broke the NFL record in 1983 for the most 1000-yard seasons by a running back. At one point, it was Harris and Walter Payton who were closing in on Jim Brown's all-time rushing mark. Harris was usually at his best in big games, as illustrated by his 354 career Super Bowl yards.

Harris grew up in New Jersey, but his big-time football career took place in Pennsylvania. After a solid high school career, he enrolled at Penn State. For the most part, he was a blocking back, yet very effective when handling the ball. He became the 13th pick of the 1972 NFL Draft--selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Harris quickly acclimated to the pro game, gaining 1055 yards for a 5.6 rushing average in his rookie season in 1972. It was in the postseason of 1972, where Harris had his most famous play in the famous "Immaculate Reception." In a divisional playoff game against the Oakland Raiders and down 7-6 with just over 20 seconds remaining, a Bradshaw pass intended for John Fuqua was deflected just as the Raiders' Jack Tatum collided with Fuqua. The ball bounced up and seemingly out of nowhere, Harris caught it before it hit the ground. He ran it in for a last-second touchdown in one of the NFL's most memorable postseason plays ever. Harris was certainly off to a good start in his career.


Harris' production dipped a bit in his sophomore campaign, as Pittsburgh was bounced out of the playoffs by the Raiders in 1973. But beginning in 1974, Harris would be over 1000 yards every season for the remainder of the decade. 1974 was a banner year for the Steelers and Harris. At 10-3, the Steelers stormed through the playoffs. In Super Bowl IX, they defeated the Vikings 16-6 and Harris was named MVP on the strength of a dominant 34 rush/158 yard performance.

It would be the first of many for a team that would become the franchise of the 70's. The very next season, the Steelers were 12-2 and Harris had 1246 yards. After another run through the playoffs, The Steelers beat the Cowboys in Super Bowl X. 1976 and 1977 were some of Harris' best years, though the Steelers did not make it to the Super Bowl those seasons, bounced from the playoffs again by the Raiders and then the Broncos.

1978 was huge for the Steelers, as they recaptured their magical form to win 14 games. They crushed the Broncos and Oilers in the playoffs. Harris had another 1000-yard season. In Super Bowl XIII against the Cowboys, Harris's 4th quarter/22-yard run was key as Pittsburgh narrowly upended the Cowboys 35-31.

Harris ran for 1186 yards and 10 touchdowns in 1979 and the great Steelers still had one more run in them. at 12-4, they went through the playoffs yet again, arriving at Super Bowl XIV against the Los Angeles Rams. Harris scored two touchdowns, as the Steelers won their 4th Super Bowl in 6 seasons.

Like most great teams and players, Harris and the Steelers grew older as the 80's came around. Harris was still awfully-effective, but there were signs he was slowing down after 3 seasons of sub-1000 yard production. Harris had a good campaign in 1983, with the last of his 8 1000-yard seasons. He went to Art Rooney looking for a raise, but the Steelers owner was reluctant, with Harris now 33 and past his peak. Harris was unceremoniously released prior to the 1984 season.

Regrettably, Harris signed with another team, the Seattle Seahawks. Seeing Harris struggling in a Seahawks uniform was a strange sight. It just didn't look right. Nevertheless, his legacy was complete. After an unproductive season, he retired. When he called it quits, only Jim Brown and Walter Payton had run for more yards than Harris--one of the winningest and successful running backs in NFL history.

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