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Bob Angelo

Thoughts On The Game
  • Writer's pictureBob Angelo

Remembering Franco Harris

My first in-person encounter with Franco Harris took place in a classroom at Penn State circa 1972.

Franco was a senior about to be drafted into the NFL. I was a sophomore trying to forge my own life path.

I remember thinking how distinctive he looked. As he once told Joe Paterno, who objected to his facial hair, “My beard is part of my face.”

My most memorable Franco encounter took place two days before Christmas 1972 during my junior year. Harris was now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. I was a long-time Steelers fan.

Because the NFL blacked out home games, two hometown Pittsburgh friends and I drove my dad’s Pontiac Catalina to Penn State to watch the Steelers first ever playoff game on my black and white television in my college apartment. Late in the 4th quarter, the Oakland Raiders suddenly and mercilessly took a 7-6 lead.

On a fourth down and long with 22 seconds left on the clock, Terry Bradshaw tossed up a prayer in the direction of Steelers running back John Fuqua. Raiders safety Jack Tatum slammed into Fuqua from behind, knocking the ball back toward the line of scrimmage apparently terminating the Steelers’ magical season.

Then—it happened.

Harris appeared from out of nowhere, plucked the ball out of the air just a tick before it would have touched the turf , then galloped 37 yards into the Raiders end zone and NFL history, clinching an unlikely Steelers’ victory.

That night, a Steelers fan named Sharon Levosky called a Pittsburgh sportscaster named Myron Cope prior to his 11 pm broadcast and suggested he describe the play as “The Immaculate Reception,” a named coined by her friend Michael Ord.

It still ranks as the single most memorable moment in NFL history.

If you ever travel through Pittsburgh’s international airport, you’ll see a life-sized statue of Franco reaching down to make that catch. The statue sits conspicuously at the top of the escalators near the exit to the main terminal.

My contribution to Franco’s legacy was a close-up I shot early in my NFL Films’ career--during a national anthem in 1978 or ’79.

In that year’s Steelers highlight film, I wrote these words for the legendary John Facenda to cover that close-up: “A face that will make a handsome bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame."

Just something about how his facial hair sculpted his distinctive face. RIP, Franco.

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