مشاركات عشوائية

Franco Harris embraced his own Steelers legend for the final hours

featured image

PITTSBURGH — Sitting in front of his 22-year-old likeness, frozen in the moment of his history-making game, Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris crushed. He recounted the tedious process of creating the mold used to sculpt his face for the iconic Immaculate Reception statues that welcome visitors to Pittsburgh International Airport and the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum.

Harris remembers breathing through two straws stuck in her nose as dental alginate sat on her face, covering every pore for more than 20 minutes. As the plaster-like material hardened, it captured every wrinkle and crevice in her face. The petroleum jelly he applied to before applying the alginate was supposed to make it easier to remove the dried plaster, but some of his beard and eyebrow hairs remained embedded in the mask when artist Gerry Embelton carefully peeled.

“It wasn’t bad until they tried to take it off and then they took my beard off with it,” Harris said with a laugh. “My beard hairs have grown back.”

For 15 minutes Tuesday morning, Harris sat across from me and talked to me about the statue and what it meant to him.

“I thought it would be a nice way to greet people coming into Pittsburgh,” Harris said, “…it was only supposed to last, I believe, six months or a year. And I’m still standing.”

less than 24 hours later, Harris’ son Dok confirmed his father died overnight. Waking up to the news was surreal. I was just with him. How could he have left?

If Harris was slowing down at 72, his schedule and zest for life didn’t show it. He had the same twinkle in his eyes as he told stories with his deep, soft tone. Our interview was one of dozens of appearances and events he had scheduled this week for the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception.

A sold-out panel was scheduled for Thursday — Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception: 50 Years Later — featuring a Steelers trio of Harris, Joe Greene and John “Frenchy” Fuqua, and Oakland Raiders linebacker Phil Villapiano at the same museum where Harris spoke to me on Tuesday morning. There was also a small, intimate dinner for friends and family planned at the museum this week.

On Friday, the play’s anniversary, there would be a screening of a documentary about her life, followed by a public ceremony at the site of the Immaculate Reception at 3:41 p.m. — the exact time of the play — – a team photo featuring members of the 1972 crew and a cover of the original radio broadcast of the play that changed the course of a franchise.

And on Saturday, the week-long celebration would culminate at halftime of the prime-time game against the Las Vegas Raiderswhere Harris’ number would be officially retired, the third in Steelers organizational history.

That’s what made Wednesday morning’s news all the more shocking.

“I don’t think they put anyone on the airport,” the defensive captain said Cameron Heyward said Wednesday. “Franco was the guy. For as many accolades as he received, he always turned to so many other people. It was a pleasure to meet him. The way he respected people after him was amazing It might be one of those things where “I won and you have to do it my way”, but he was always welcoming everyone.

“He always had the utmost respect for every player, every person in the city. There was just a level of humility when you talk to Franco. We lost a good one today.”

If the Fort Pitt tunnel is the gateway to the city, the Harris airport statue is the gatekeeper, greeting every traveler in a region he embodied with a coin that turned a hapless franchise into a dynasty.

The statue connects the older generation of football fans – like those who swear they were there that day – to football newbies, giving parents and grandparents the chance to educate their descendants about the miraculous game each time they pass the landmark. Christian Brennan, a Pennsylvania native who lives in Denver, recently returned home and introduced his 4-year-old son, Miles, to Harris and his statue.

After taking a selfie with Franco, we stopped at Primantis right at the airport, had a kielbasa sandwich and I made [Miles] watching Immaculate Reception YouTube videos,” Brennan wrote to me in a message. Not quite sure I understood the meaning. [But] It’s a great memory for me.”

Like Brennan, Heyward shows the statue of Harris to his son every time they pass her at the airport.

Heyward sat down with Harris on Tuesday afternoon when the two taped an episode for Heyward’s podcast.

He was just saying to me, ‘You still couldn’t touch me just in practice if I practiced.’ And I’m just like, ‘Franco, you’re not even playing football right now,'” Heyward said, smiling at the memory. “But, he had a competitive spirit, and you just felt like he wanted to be there for you and just wanted to interact.”

Harris had that kind of personal relationship with everyone, whether he met them five minutes ago or five years ago.

I saw it with my own eyes after our interview.

Brian Cook and his daughters, Mimi and Reese, waited quietly while Harris finished speaking, then approached him and asked for a photo in front of the statue. But before getting a photo, the trio got a history lesson.

“What do you know of the 1970s? he asked the girls.

“Um, I think my mom was born then,” 11-year-old Reese replied.

Their father laughed and reminded them that he was also born in the 1970s. Afterwards, Harris asked the girls about the quarterback who threw him the immaculate reception and what number Harris was wearing. Harris informed them not only about the game and the history of the Steelers, but after taking the photo, he asked the girls what sports they played – golf and tennis – and told them how he had played golf for the first time while a student at Penn State.

Harris’ schedule was completely packed that day, and as he chatted with the family of cooks, Harris’ wife, Dana, repeatedly reminded him that they had to go to their next event. . But Harris wasn’t ready to leave.

He told the cooks he thought a higher club, like a 9-iron, was good from 250 yards, and a 3-iron was the good choice for a shot closer to the green. He told them about playing with Penn State teammate and fellow running back Lydell Mitchell.

After about five minutes, Dana separated her husband from the group and the cooks, who had visited Pittsburgh from their home in Northern Virginia for the day so their mother could wrap Christmas presents, continued their tour.

Before heading out, the girls went to the gift shop and picked out a t-shirt and hoodie. Tuesday night Brian sent me a photo of the pair in their shopping.

Arm in arm in front of their Christmas tree, Mimi and Reese smiled in their new gear that read “Franco’s Italian Army.”

Post a Comment