Pain Relief Beyond Belief





From Blakey to Brown, Como to Costa, Eckstine to Eldridge, Galbraith to Garner, Harris to Hines, Horne to Hyman, Jamal to Jefferson, Kelly to Klook; Mancini to Marmarosa, May to Mitchell, Negri to Nestico, Parlan to Ponder, Reed to Ruther, Strayhorn to Sullivan, Turk to Turrentine, Wade to Williams… the forthcoming publication Treasury of Pittsburgh Jazz Connections by Dr. Nelson Harrison and Dr. Ralph Proctor, Jr. will document the legacy of one of the world’s greatest jazz capitals.


Do you want to know who Dizzy Gillespie  idolized? Did you ever wonder who inspired Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey? Who was the pianist that mentored Monk, Bud Powell, Tad Dameron, Elmo Hope, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme? Who was Art Tatum’s idol and Nat Cole’s mentor? What musical quartet pioneered the concept adopted later by the Modern Jazz Quartet? Were you ever curious to know who taught saxophone to Stanley Turrentine or who taught piano to Ahmad Jamal? What community music school trained Robert McFerrin, Sr. for his history-making debut with the Metropolitan Opera? What virtually unknown pianist was a significant influence on young John Coltrane, Shirley Scott, McCoy Tyner, Bobby Timmons and Ray Bryant when he moved to Philadelphia from Pittsburgh in the 1940s?  Would you be surprised to know that Erroll Garner attended classes at the Julliard School of Music in New York and was at the top of his class in writing and arranging proficiency?


Some answers  can be gleaned from the postings on the Pittsburgh Jazz Network.


For almost 100 years the Pittsburgh region has been a metacenter of jazz originality that is second to no other in the history of jazz.  One of the best kept secrets in jazz folklore, the Pittsburgh Jazz Legacy has heretofore remained mythical.  We have dubbed it “the greatest story never told” since it has not been represented in writing before now in such a way as to be accessible to anyone seeking to know more about it.  When it was happening, little did we know how priceless the memories would become when the times were gone.


Today jazz is still king in Pittsburgh, with events, performances and activities happening all the time. The Pittsburgh Jazz Network is dedicated to celebrating and showcasing the places, artists and fans that carry on the legacy of Pittsburgh's jazz heritage.






Duke Ellington is first African-American and the first musician to solo on U.S. circulating coin



       In Her Own Words
December 21, 2022, 6:32 AM

Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Franco Harris has died. He was 72.

Harris’ death comes just days before the 50th anniversary of the Steelers’ celebration of the “Immaculate Reception.” Harris made one of the most iconic plays in NFL history on Dec. 23, 1972, against the Oakland Raiders when he swooped in and grabbed a pass from Terry Bradshaw intended for John Fuqua before it hit the ground.

After grabbing the ball, Harris ran it in for a game-winning touchdown with just seconds left in the fourth quarter. The Steelers won that divisional playoff game 13-7 before losing the AFC title game to the undefeated Miami Dolphins.

Harris’ son, Dok, told the Associated Press that his father died overnight and that a cause of death was not immediately known.

With the Raiders visiting Pittsburgh on Saturday night, the Steelers are having a ceremony to honor Harris’ play at halftime of the game. Harris’ iconic No. 32 is also set to be retired by the team.

Franco Harris made one of the most legendary plays in NFL history. (via the NFL)"/>
Franco Harris made one of the most legendary plays in NFL history. (via the NFL)

Harris was a rookie in 1972

Harris’ legendary play immediately made him a member of Pittsburgh Steelers lore as a rookie. He rushed 188 times for 1,055 yards across 14 games in his first season with the team in 1972, though hardly anyone remembers those rushing yards or his 10 rushing touchdowns from that season.

Harris would rush for more than 1,000 yards in eight of his 11 seasons in Pittsburgh. He averaged 5.6 yards a carry as a rookie and scored a league-leading 14 rushing touchdowns in 1976. After one season in Seattle after 12 years in Pittsburgh, Harris finished his career with 12,120 rushing yards and 91 TDs. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.

Before he was selected by the Steelers with the 13th pick in the 1972 draft, Harris played collegiately at Penn State. Harris rushed for over 600 yards in each of his three seasons on the field for the Nittany Lions and scored 25 total touchdowns while pairing with Lydell Mitchell in the backfield.

Franco Harris of the Steelers dances past Seattle Seahawks linerbacker Keith Butler (53) in first period action Sunday, Sept. 10, 1978 in Pittsburgh. Harris picked up five yards on the play. Harris is the eight leading rusher in NFL history. (AP Photo/RCG)"/>
Franco Harris of the Steelers runs with the ball on Sept. 10, 1978, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/RCG)

Steelers emerged as a powerhouse in the 1970s

The Steelers went 11-3 in 1972 after drafting Harris 13th overall. It was Pittsburgh’s first winning season since a 7-4-3 campaign in 1963 and the third straight year of improvement after the Steelers bottomed out at 1-13 in Chuck Noll’s first season as head coach in 1969.

That 11-3 season set the standard for what the Steelers became in the 1970s. After losing to that immortal Dolphins team in the AFC title game, the Steelers went 10-4 the following season before the Raiders got revenge in a 33-14 divisional playoff game a day shy of the first anniversary of Harris’ catch.

With Harris as a central figure of Pittsburgh's rushing attack, the Steelers went on to win four of the next six Super Bowl titles. The Steelers beat the Vikings 16-6 to win Super Bowl IX in January 1975 and then beat the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 in Super Bowl X. Harris rushed 34 times for 158 yards in the win over the Vikings and had six rushing touchdowns in the playoffs that season.

After beating the Cowboys again in Super Bowl XIII, the Steelers then capped off their 1970s Super Bowl run with a 31-19 win over the Los Angeles Rams.

Harris played in 19 postseason games with the Steelers and finished with 400 carries for 1,556 yards and 16 rushing TDs to go with that one receiving TD against the Raiders. The Steelers were 14-5 in the playoffs when Harris was on the field.

Since that Super Bowl after the 1979 season, the Steelers have had just eight losing seasons and two more Super Bowl victories. The Steelers enter Saturday’s game at 6-8 and must win out to avoid their first losing season under head coach Mike Tomlin.

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Days Before 50th Anniversary of The “Immaculate Reception,” Franco Harris Dies at 72

His improbable, seemingly impossible shoestring catch and run for a touchdown beat the Oakland Raiders and sent the Steelers to the first of many playoff games in the '70s.
2022 Francoharrispressconference 0906kr 0264


The golden anniversary of one of the greatest moments in Pittsburgh History will be a much more somber affair Saturday night at Acrisure Stadium with the stunning news Wednesday morning of the death of Franco Harris.

Word of Harris’ passing first came from the Associated Press. No cause of death was given. A few hours later, the Steelers issued a statement on the loss of one of the team’s most celebrated players.

“It is difficult to find the appropriate words to describe Franco Harris’ impact on the Pittsburgh Steelers, his teammates, the City of Pittsburgh and Steelers Nation,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a statement. “From his rookie season, which included the Immaculate Reception, through the next 50 years, Franco brought joy to people on and off the field. He never stopped giving back in so many ways. He touched so many, and he was loved by so many. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Dana, his son, Dok, and his extended family at this difficult time.”

The Immaculate Reception and Bill Mazeroski’s solo home run to win the 1960 World Series remain the two most iconic moments in Pittsburgh sports history. For the Pirates, it won a championship, something that would not be repeated for 11 more years. For the Steelers, Harris’ catch and run led to a decade that included four Super Bowl Championships in which he played a key role in each.

Friends and Fans Mourn Franco Harris
Franco Harris Holds An Unquestioned Place Among Steelers’ All-Time ...
Pittsburgh Steelers Are Staging A Long-Awaited Immaculate Remembrance

In 2011, Harris told Pittsburgh Magazine that he still squabbled with former Raiders players about the Immaculate Reception.

Harris spoke with former PM sports columnist Sean Conboy for our March 2011 issue:

Before he had his own army, before he had his own car, Franco Harris used to take public transportation to work like the average Joe. In 1972, as a rookie on a Steelers team that hadn’t posted a winning record in eight seasons, Harris didn’t have to worry about signing many autographs on the bumpy ride to Three Rivers Stadium.

“I used to take the bus and even hitch a ride home after practice,” Harris laughs. “Half way into the season, people really started to recognize me.”

While today the nine-time Pro Bowler’s place in history may seem predestined, back then black-and-gold were the colors of the inglorious. When the Steelers opened the 1972 season against the heavily-favored Raiders on September 17—the same night “M*A*S*H*” premiered on NBC—Harris was a relatively anonymous public commuter. Just three months later, the Steelers made their first playoff appearance since the Truman administration, and Harris was on the receiving end of an Immaculate catch that would prove to be the start of dynasty.

He finally got some wheels, too.

“Later on in the year, a dealership gave me a car to use,” he says. “Then I won Rookie of the Year and won an American Motors Javelin.”

Pittsburgh magazine recently talked with Franco, now 62, to talk about life after football, the rival Raiders and the worst poker player on the ’70s Steelers.

Q&A with Franco Harris

Do you ever run into former Raiders and argue with them about the Immaculate Reception?

Yeah, me and [former Raiders linebacker] Phil Villapiano still go at it every now and then. For years, Phil kept telling people that I was loafing on the play and I got lucky. So I saw him about a month ago and I finally said, “Phil, look, you say I was loafing, right? Well, when Bradshaw was scrambling and I released out of the backfield, me and you were side by side, but guess who got to the ball first? So who was loafing, Phil?” He didn’t know what to say. We’ll quiet the rest of the Raiders in time.

Every time you fly in to Pittsburgh, you get to see your Immaculate Reception statue at the entrance to the terminals. That must be a special welcome home.

Oh yeah, no doubt about it. Someone told me that when the Raiders came to town recently, some of the Raiders fans were trying to knock the ball out of my hands. They still can’t do it after all these years.

I’ve got a great April Fool’s joke for you: Send Raiders owner Al Davis a note that says, “Hey Al, just between you and me … I didn’t catch it.”

[Laughing] I don’t know if I’d do it right now with the condition he’s in.

What are your fondest off-the-field memories from your playing days?

The Tuesday night poker games at my house with Lynn Swann, Joe Greene, “Moon” Mullens and all the guys.

Who was the best poker player?

Me, of course! But Frenchy Fuqua was probably the funniest guy at the table.

Who got hustled the most?

Probably Swann. Man, wait until he reads that! If you can imagine this, we only played for a dollar and two dollars. No car keys being thrown into the pot back then.

You worked at a restaurant in the summer during your time at Penn State. What do you make of the current scandals involving college players taking money from boosters and agents?

Well, the players are not allowed to take a part-time job during the season, and what happens if they’re from a family that can’t afford to send them money? When I was in school, my parents didn’t send me one dollar. After a game you can’t even go out and buy a pizza? I think it really puts the athlete at a disadvantage and in a position where bad things can happen … Did I scalp tickets [as a college player]? Yeah, but all the players were doing it. Coach Paterno helped to keep us in line, and hey, I graduated in four years. I’ll always be proud of that.

Image courtesy of @SI_Vault

You recently became part owner of the Pittsburgh Passion, the full-contact women’s football team. What drew you to the Passion?

When I heard about the Passion a few years ago, it was intriguing to me because people always said that football is one sport that women will never play. So I went to watch a game and I was like, “Wow. This is a lot better football than I imagined.” I became a big fan. The players are housewives, accountants, nurses, teachers, all practicing at night after work. It kind of makes you think of stories from the old NFL.

“It was a rude awakening to a lot of people to see that happen to Iron Mike.”

Several current Steelers have expressed concern about head injuries affecting their life after football. Are you worried about long-term effects from your career?

Well, the average life expectancy of an NFL player today is 54 years old. There’s a major concern about the effect of concussions and damage to the brain. One thing that always comes to mind is Mike Webster. Mike was a beautiful person—just a great guy. To see him deteriorate like that … it was physical damage to his brain that was beyond his control. It was a rude awaking to a lot of people to see that happen to “Iron Mike,” as tough as he was.

Can the league do anything to make the game safer, or is it impossible?

During my time, they changed the rules on chop blocking—hitting below the waist—and that helped a lot of guys with their knees. Players say they know the risk and they’re always going to say, “I wouldn’t change anything,” because they think of all the good times and they forget about the pain. But my feeling is that if you can find ways to prevent long-lasting injuries that effect quality of life in a big way, that would be better for everybody.

Do you ever wish you had played in the modern era and got the paychecks these guys are making today?

No way would I change what we had. In that one decade, the Steelers went from the worst of all time to what people now regard as the best team of all time. That time was wild. You had fan armies popping up all over the place: Franco’s Army. Gerela’s Gorillas. The Dobre Shunkas. It set a whole new level for fan participation. That ’70s run was priceless.

Categories: The 412

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.
Shutterstock 652458736


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.

The Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer was set to have his number retired this weekend.

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer Franco Harris has passed away at the age of 72 just days before his number was set to be retired on the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, multiple outlets have reported.

Harris was a four-time Super Bowl champion and 9-time Pro Bowler who was drafted by the Steelers with the 13th overall pick in 1972. He claimed the most rushing yards in Steelers history and was named the MVP of Super Bowl IX.

The Steelers were scheduled to host a celebration this weekend for the anniversary of the reception and then retire Harris’s number during halftime of their Week 16 game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

The team has not yet confirmed the news, and the cause of death is not yet known. All Steelers will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.

My wife and I were at a party Friday night at the History Center, and after a cocktail, chit chat and getting our picture taken with Santa, we were going to check out the John Kane painting exhibit before the seated dinner.  As we were making our escape from the crowd, however, I saw Franco Harris standing apart from the crowd, talking with TV journalist Sally Wiggin. 

 I’d met Franco maybe half a dozen times in my nearly 38 years in Pittsburgh but never spoken more than a couple words to him.  But I walked over and said, “Happy Anniversary!”  Sally raised her eyebrows and said, “Of what?” and then was kicking herself for not remembering that Dec. 23 would be the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception.

Franco thanked me, and I told him I’d seen it on TV, that I was a sports nut as a 10-year-old and was at a family Christmas party in Cincinnati.  As the rest of the family were socializing in other rooms, I was glued to the game on a small TV in the kitchen.

Franco was surprised that I was 10 (maybe he thought I was his age?). And he said, “People find it hard to believe when I say this, but I have almost no recollection of the play.” 

In case there’s anyone in Pittsburgh who doesn’t know, the Steelers were losing 7-6 to the Oakland Raiders in the ‘ 72 playoffs, and 22 seconds remained on the clock, when Terry Bradshaw threw a desperate pass to Frenchy Fuqua.  The ball ricocheted off the Raiders hard-hitting defensive back Jack Tatum as he broke up the play laying Fuqua out.  For an instant, the Raiders celebrated, until Franco came out of nowhere to catch the ball just before it hit the ground and gallop in for the winning touchdown.

“I saw Tatum hit Frenchy and we’re trained to go toward the ball. So that’s what I was doing.  I’ve always had good reactions, and I was young then – a rookie. I saw the ball and the only thing I remember thinking as I reached down for it was not to break stride.  I guess it was all instinct, and in football, I always had good instincts.”

It was electrifying for anyone who saw it — the greatest play in NFL history and it changed the Steelers trajectory from longtime losers to winners of four Super Bowls in the 1970s. I told Franco I assumed he didn’t want to get drafted by the Steelers, and he agreed. “This was the last place I wanted to come – here and Green Bay – mainly because of the weather.  I wanted to go somewhere warm.”

“People didn’t expect much of us then,” he said, adding that they lost to the Dolphins in the next playoff game. We took turns recalling the players on that undefeated team, and Franco recalled the Dolphins game. “The game was in Pittsburgh, and I thought we’d have an advantage because of the weather – but the day of the game – the end of December — it was 60 degrees.  And I thought, ‘that’s not a good omen.’” 

I’d played in college and told Franco we had something in common that very few people did – catching a deflected pass and running it in for a touchdown – joking that I never understood why no one remembered mine at the midwestern football powerhouse Kenyon College.  He laughed and we talked for 10 minutes, mainly about football, before another friend came over and complimented Franco on what a great player he was at Penn State. 

After dinner, at the end of the evening, I stopped Franco for a second and said it had been a pleasure to talk with him. We shook hands, and he returned the compliment.

On a drive to Cincinnati the next morning, I told my son about my conversation with Franco and what a genuinely friendly, gracious, and unpretentious person he was.  And in the days to follow, I wondered to myself why we had never featured Franco in Pittsburgh Quarterly. It was a mistake I intended to rectify.  

And then came yesterday’s news that Franco had passed away.  On ESPN, commentators showed The Immaculate Reception over and over as well as clips that reminded me what a great and powerful running back he had been. And, to a person, those who knew him said what a good man he was.  

For Pittsburgh, of course, he was all those things and more.  He was a shining example of what a citizen should be and of what a professional athlete could be.  He used his celebrity standing to help this city more than any athlete I can think of in the nearly four decades I’ve been here.  The examples are legion, but none surpasses his leadership of the Pittsburgh Promise in its efforts to help city children attain higher education.

Yes, his death is a great loss to football fans everywhere and to Pittsburghers everywhere.  And as some would say, the timing was heartbreaking, coming as it did, days before his number was to be retired – only the second Steeler to be so honored (Joe Greene is the other) – and before a major anniversary celebration of the Immaculate Reception.  

But, what a tremendous and rare example he leaves for the rest of us – of grace and humility.  And of commitment to doing whatever he could to make his community – Pittsburgh – a better place.

A journalistic innovator, Heuck has been writing about Pittsburgh for 37 years, as an investigative reporter and business editor at The Pittsburgh Press and Post-Gazette and as the founder of Pittsburgh Quarterly. His newspaper projects ranged from living on the streets disguised as a homeless man to penning the only comprehensive profile in the latter years of polio pioneer Dr. Jonas Salk to creating a statistical means of judging regional progress that has led to similar projects across the country. Heuck's work has won numerous national, state and local writing awards. His work has been cited in the landmark media law case "Food Lion vs. ABC news."


Super Steelers

Discover the history behind the Steelers dynasty and celebrate the team’s six Super Bowl championships.    

Professional football traces its roots to Pittsburgh when in 1892, the Allegheny Athletic Association football team paid former Yale University All-American guard Pudge William “Pudge” Heffelfinger $500 to play against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club. Forty years later, Art Rooney Sr. founded Pittsburgh’s first professional franchise, first known as the Pirates and later renamed the Steelers. Today, the Steelers’ six Super Bowl trophies are tied for the most among any NFL team, helping to secure an unmatched legacy of professional football in Pittsburgh. 

50 Years of the Immaculate Reception

The Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum is the home of the Immaculate Reception year-round and features a lifelike figure of Franco Harris making the catch, Harris’ cleats from the play, the Three Rivers Stadium field turf where it happened, as well as other 1970s Steelers artifacts. 

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the greatest play in NFL history, the Sports Museum has added rare and never-before-seen objects and historic images to the Super Steelers exhibition. These artifacts examine the life and career of Harris, the New Jersey native and Penn State star who captivated Pittsburgh with his hard-running style and intensity during his rookie season in 1972.  

These new Franco Harris artifacts (and more!) are now on view for a limited time:  

  • The football from the Immaculate Reception play  
  • Football jersey from Rancocas Valley High School (N.J.) 
  • Franco’s own “Franco’s Italian Army” helmet  
  • NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award 
  • Pro Football Hall of Fame jacket  

Learn more about how we’re celebrating the Immaculate Reception’s golden anniversary.  

A Pivotal Moment – December 23, 1972: The Immaculate Reception


Museum life-like figure of Franco Harris in front of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum. Museum life-like figure of Franco Harris in front of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum.

There are certain moments in sports that define a team, an era, or an individual. The Immaculate Reception is one of those defining moments – separating the same old Steelers from the Super Bowl Steelers. In the minds of many fans, the Immaculate Reception has become associated with the Steelers’ first Super Bowl victory. In fact, it would be two years before the team won its first championship, but this play changed the team’s fortunes and identity. In a matter of seconds, the team went from lovable losers to probable winners, launching an era when the Steelers and their city became known nationwide as champions.

Franco Harris's 1973 Topps card. | Heinz History Center
Franco Harris’s 1973 Topps card.

The play itself had all the dramatic elements needed for a “legendary” moment: Less than 30 seconds on the clock, the Steelers behind 7 to 6, facing fourth and 10 with no timeouts, a packed house of 50,000-plus at Three Rivers Stadium, an AFC divisional playoff game on the line, and a rookie running back who inadvertently became central to the action. Even 45 years later, we can all remember how this most memorable (and most controversial) play rolled out. Quarterback Terry Bradshaw scrambled to avoid Raiders linemen Tony Cline and Horace Jones, then fired a pass toward Frenchy Fuqua. The pass bounced off the Raiders’ Jack Tatum and was scooped out of the air just before it hit the ground by Franco Harris. He evaded Raiders linebacker Gerald Irons and stiff-armed Jimmy Warren en route to the end zone. As Harris scored, bedlam ensued; Steelers players celebrated and hundreds of fans rushed onto the field.

It took the officials almost 15 minutes to sort out what had happened, clear the field, and after Roy Gerela’s extra point, award the Steelers their first-ever playoff victory. That night, Sharon Levosky called Myron Cope before his 11 p.m. broadcast and suggested the name her friend Michael Ord had used to describe the play: “The Immaculate Reception.” When Cope used the term on air, associating a religious miracle with a football moment, the immortalization of the Immaculate Reception began. The legend of that moment has only grown as time has passed.

Immaculate Reception shoes worn by Franco Harris, December 23, 1972. Courtesy of Franco Harris.
Immaculate Reception shoes worn by Franco Harris, December 23, 1972. Courtesy of Franco Harris.

Perhaps that mythology has as much to do with what came after the moment as it does with the event itself. Before Harris charged into the end zone, the Steelers had struggled for more than 40 seasons, hampered by the often-divided attention of their owner Art Rooney, limited financial resources, and lack of a home field. All that began to change in the 1970s as Dan Rooney became the driving force of a team led by Coach Chuck Noll. Noll built the nucleus with drafts of Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Mel Blount, Jack Ham, and Harris. In 1974 Art Rooney Jr., Bill Nunn, and the scouting team put together what has been considered the best class ever, drafting four future Hall of Famers.

By agreeing to join the American Football Conference in 1970, the team received a substantial infusion of cash. That same year, the team moved into Three Rivers Stadium, a venue far superior to Forbes Field and Pitt Stadium. “Monday Night Football,” which began in 1970, offered a national audience for the Steelers as they began their ascent in the 1970s, just as the downturn in the steel industry created a diaspora of job seekers from the city. The two audiences combined to create Steelers nation, reveling in the success of their sports teams even as the bottom dropped out of the regional economy. A new identity as the City of Champions was forged in the 1970s, with the Immaculate Reception serving as a foundation and the four Super Bowl victories as the cornerstone of that identity.

Franco’s Italian Army cheers on the Steelers, December 23, 1972. | Heinz History Center Franco’s Italian Army cheers on the Steelers, December 23, 1972. During Harris’ rookie season, a group from the Italian American community founded an “army” of dedicated fans. A number of them were on the sidelines as the Immaculate Reception occurred. Gift of Thomas Stradley, Detre Library & Archives at the History Center.

Turf from Three Rivers Stadium, 1970s. | Heinz History Center Turf from Three Rivers Stadium, 1970s. In the 1970s, as the grounds crew worked to replace the old turf at Three Rivers, Franco Harris stopped by. He asked for the piece of the field where the Immaculate Reception occurred. Crews cut him the piece of carpet that now hangs in the Sports Museum. An “X” marks the spot where Harris made the miracle catch.
Courtesy of Franco Harris.

Anne Madarasz is the Director of the Curatorial Division, Chief Historian, & Director of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum.

DATEDecember 19, 2017
  • Anne Madarasz

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