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The death of Franco Harris only deepens nostalgia for 'The Immaculate Reception'

Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris twirls a Terrible Towel during a ceremony commemorating the 40th anniversary of his "Immaculate Reception" catch in the 1972 playoff game against the Oakland Raiders, in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012. Harris died Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. He was 72.
Gene J. Puskar
/
AP
Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris twirls a Terrible Towel during a ceremony commemorating the 40th anniversary of his "Immaculate Reception" catch in the 1972 playoff game against the Oakland Raiders, in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012. Harris died Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022. He was 72.

Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris died Wednesday, just days before the 50th anniversary of the "Immaculate Reception," what many have called one of the greatest plays in NFL history.

The play happened in Harris' rookie year in 1972. Over his career, he would go on to win four Super Bowls over the course of a decade with the team — including being crowned the MVP of Super Bowl IX, the team's first championship — and be inducted into the Hall of Fame the first year he was eligible.

Take a look at the infamous play and what makes it special.

Watch the "Immaculate Reception"

In the final seconds of the Dec. 23, 1972, AFC divisional round playoff game between the Steelers and Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh was trailing 7-6 when quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw a pass downfield. It ricocheted off a collision between Steelers running back John Fuqua and Raiders safety Jack Tatum and into the hands of Harris, who was several yards behind and corralled the ball just before it grazed the ground. Amid the chaos, Harris sprinted 60 yards to the end zone for the game-winning score.

"It's just a good story. We add a little to it as time goes on because it's better," Bradshaw told NFL.com. "I had so much fun messing with him about his blocking and catching the ball. We hardly ever threw the ball to him. It's just a good story. I'm 74, and I enjoy these stories more than ever."

The team will celebrate the catch this weekend

The Steelers have several events lined up this weekend to commemorate the play, though it is unclear if Harris' death will change the itinerary.

On Friday, Harris was scheduled to gather with his 1972 teammates at the Immaculate Reception monument, which is located at the exact spot Harris made the catch at the since-demolished Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. The original radio broadcast of the play will also be played, according to the Steelers.

On Saturday, a rematch between the Raiders and Steelers will take place and the Immaculate Reception will be honored throughout. At halftime, Harris's jersey number 32 will be retired, making him only the third player in Steelers history to receive the honor, the Steelers said.

Raiders, Steelers fans share their memories of the play

While the city of Pittsburgh has devoted a statue and memorial to Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception, some Raiders fans were devastated to see their team lose in such a jarring way.

Still, fans of both teams were able to recognize what a great player Harris was on Wednesday and offered their condolences on social media.

"I have always thought of "The Immaculate Reception" as the play that sparked the Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty," one person said.

"As a huge #Oakland @Raiders fan as a boy, I cried like, well, a little boy when the Raiders lost to the Steelers in the Immaculate Reception game 50 years ago....RIP Franco," another person said.

"Absolutely shocked. And on the week when the @steelers and @Raiders play to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his Immaculate Reception," a user said. "You didn't have to be a Pittsburgh fan to be a #FrancoHarris fan. Rest in power, Champion."

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