Pittsburgh: The ball fluttered in the air and all but one of the 22 players on the Three Rivers Stadium turf on that cold December day 50 years ago essentially stopped.
Franco Harris never did.
The Pittsburgh Steelers running back kept right on going, the instincts that carried him through his life both on and off the field during his Hall of Fame career taking over, shifting the perception of a moribund franchise and a reeling region in the process.
The Steelers rarely won before his arrival in 1972. The moment his shoe-top grab eternally known as the “Immaculate Reception” entered the lexicon, they rarely lost.
Harris, whose heads-up thinking authored the most iconic play in NFL history, has died. He was 72. Harris’ son, Dok, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that his father died overnight. No cause of death was given.
His death comes two days before the 50th anniversary of the play that provided the jolt that helped transform the Steelers from also-rans into the NFL’s elite, and three days before Pittsburgh is scheduled to retire his No. 32 during a ceremony at halftime of its game against the Las Vegas Raiders.