Minus ‘the big man,’ Steelers retire Franco Harris’ uniform number in emotional ceremony

In a ceremony that was as immaculate as the famous reception that spawned a Pro Football Hall of Fame career, the Pittsburgh Steelers retired the uniform number of the late Franco Harris on Saturday night.

The festivities, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, took on a somber tone because of Harris’ unexpected death earlier in the week at age 72.

Harris’ wife Dana Dokmanovich and his son Franco “Dok” Harris accompanied team president Art Rooney II on the podium for the halftime ceremony of the Steelers’ game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Harris’ number was the third retired by the franchise.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” Rooney said, his voice cracking with emotion. “The big man was supposed to be standing here next to me. I would like to thank Dana and Dok for sharing Franco with us for the last 50 years.”

Flanked on each side of Rooney, Dana and Dok reached behind him and locked hands.

“It’s been said life will bring you sorrow and that it’s up to us to bring the joy,” Rooney said. “Franco brought us joy for 50 years. In recognition of his many contributions on and off the field, it’s my honor to declare No. 32 is officially retired.”


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As fans at Acrisure Stadium chanted “Franco, Franco, Franco!” in the 8-degree cold, Rooney II hugged Dokmanovich, who leaned on his shoulder for comfort.

Gracing the field along with Rooney and the Harris family were more than a dozen Steelers players from the 1972 team that defeated the Oakland Raiders, 13-7, in a divisional playoff game thanks to Harris’ game-winning catch of a deflected pass.

Those in attendance included Hall of Famers Joe Greene and Mel Blount, plus John “Frenchy” Fuqua, whose collision with Raiders safety Jack Tatum resulted in the deflection which led to Harris’ 60-yard touchdown in that playoff game 50 years ago.

Blount, wearing his traditional cowboy hat, used a Terrible Towel to wipe a tear from his eye during the ceremony.

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

The 1972 Steelers watch a clip of the Immaculate Reception before Franco Harris’ number was retired at halftime of the Raiders game Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022, at Acrisure Stadium.

After a video tribute of Harris’ career was played on the scoreboard, members of the 1972 team stood and waved Terrible Towels as the ceremony concluded. Fans continued to chant Harris’ name as the players were escorted off the field.

For viewers at home, the tribute to Harris was cut short when NFL Network, which broadcast the game nationally, cut to commercial. NFL Network representatives did not respond to a request for comment about the timing of the commercial break. Although KDKA-TV carried the game locally, KDKA had no control over the telecast which originated via NFL Network.

The Steelers also paid homage to Harris throughout the game in about 32 other ways Saturday:

• Coach Mike Tomlin and the players sported No. 32 jerseys as they headed to the locker room for the game.

• Defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, the team’s longest-tenured player and a friend of Harris’, was the last to exit the tunnel for pregame introductions, and he ran onto the field carrying a large No. 32 flags that flapped in the 16 mph winds.


The Steelers’ Cameron Heyward carries out a 32 flag in honor of Franco Harris before playing the Raiders Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022 at Acrisure Stadium.

• Fuqua, the intended target of Terry Bradshaw’s pass on the Immaculate Reception, led the pregame Terrible Towel twirl on the sideline.

• The Immaculate Reception was replayed at the two-minute warning of the first half.

• A large black-and-white 32 banner was unfurled on each rotunda flanking the end zone.

The Steelers also held a moment of silence in Harris’ memory before the singing of the national anthem.

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at jrutter@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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