Friends and Fans Mourn Franco Harris

As news of the Hall of Famer's death spread, many reflected on the legendary player's character and passion for Pittsburgh.
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As the city woke up Wednesday to the news of Franco Harris’ death, Pittsburghers and notable names from the world of football and beyond offered remembrances and stunned reactions.

In a statement, Pro Football Hall of Fame President Jim Porter reflected on Harris’ character, as well as that of his wife, Dana.

“We have lost an incredible football player, an incredible ambassador to the Hall and, most importantly, we have lost one of the finest gentlemen anyone will ever meet. Franco not only impacted the game of football, but he also affected the lives of many, many people in profoundly positive ways … My heart and prayers go out to his wife, Dana, an equally incredible person.”

Harris was set to attend several high-profile events this weekend, including the retirement of his jersey number — just the third such ceremony in Steelers history — and an event at the Heinz History Center marking the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception.

The Senator John Heinz History Center created a special exhibit to mark the anniversary of the “Immaculate Reception.”

“All of us at the Heinz History Center and Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum are shocked and devastated over the sudden passing of our friend Franco Harris,” said president and CEO Andy Masich. “To us, he was more than an iconic sports figure. Franco was family. It has been a gift to spend so much time with him over these past few months as we lead up to the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception. If it’s possible, we came to admire and respect him even more, not just as an athlete, but as a man and a Pittsburgher. Franco touched all of our lives in some way. His story and ours are intertwined. We are all diminished by his loss. Our heartfelt condolences and thoughts are with Dana, Dok, his extended family, his teammates, and all who knew and loved Franco.”

Just yesterday, Mike Tomlin was asked about Harris in anticipation of this weekend’s anniversary.

“He’s just a special man,” Tomlin said in a press conference. “What an awesome representation of this organization and this community — a guy that embraces all the responsibility that comes with being him. I just admire his passion for Pittsburgh and young people … his passion for others, and this place, and the Steelers is unparalleled.”

From Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald:

“All of Pittsburgh and Steeler nation is saddened at the passing of a civic icon, Franco Harris. We adopted him a half a century ago, as he led the Steelers to greatness.  “He became a Pittsburgher, staying long after his Hall of Fame career ended. His contributions, along with his wife Dana, continued for decades. “We loved him, and he returned that love many times over. As we remember his many contributions to this community, on and off the field, I hope his family is comforted in the fact that his imprint on this town and his work will never be forgotten. “Our deepest condolences to Dana and Dok. Thanks for sharing him with us.”

Pittsburgh Magazine Publisher and Vice President Betsy Benson recalled a chance encounter with Harris.

“One of the last times I saw Franco was at a charity event some years ago. When a spontaneous passing of the “hat” occurred at some point, I happened to be standing next to him. Franco pulled a 100 dollar bill out of his wallet and dropped into a bowl filled with 5s and 10s. It was a small but significant thing and represented what was special about Franco — he was all about the community and was willing to show up and help — everywhere.”

Harris was 72. His death was confirmed by his son, former mayoral candidate Dok Harris. No cause of death was given.

Categories: Steelers, The 412