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Mehno: Catch didn’t define Harris

December 26, 2012
By John Mehno - For the Mirror

PITTSBURGH - You may have noticed that the Pittsburgh Steelers observed the 40th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception over the weekend.

It was a big deal because round-number anniversaries are, and it really was a unique play.

But it was also a lucky play, an odd bounce that turned into a memorable touchdown for the Steelers, who won a playoff game for the first time. In a way, maybe the celebration of that single play cheats Franco Harris' legacy with the Steelers.

He was a huge part of the Steelers' four Super Bowl championships in six years from 1974-79, and he was the player who had the biggest immediate impact when he arrived as the Steelers' first pick in the 1972 draft.

The team had decent running backs in John "Frenchy" Fuqua and Preston Pearson. But Harris added another dimension, a big back who could be a workhorse and get tough yards when they were needed.

Detractors pointed out Harris' tendency to step out of bounds when possible rather than absorbing hits. Time has proven Harris was correct. He's in reasonably good health today at 62. Earl Campbell, who was a high-impact running back for the Houston Oilers in the same era, can barely walk today.

Harris only started nine of the Steelers' 14 regular season games in 1972, but he still gained 1,055 yards. After the Steelers' first four games, he had gained only 79 yards. His breakthrough was a 115-yard game against Houston in week five.

Harris then became the Steelers' focal point and had a Hall of Fame career. It ended with a bitter contract dispute and a lost season with Seattle, but that's been forgiven.

Give Harris credit for being alert and hustling on the Immaculate Reception. But remember that he did a lot more for the Steelers than capitalize on a fortuitous bounce.

Who's the boss?

Dan Rooney is back in Pittsburgh and anxious to get involved again with the Steelers.

Rooney served as the United States Ambassador to Ireland, a position he recently resigned. The frequent trans-oceanic travel would challenge anyone. It took a major toll on Rooney, who is 80.

Now that he's back, how involved will he be? His son Art II has been in charge, and the Steelers just had a very disappointing season.

There are going to be some interesting meetings as the Steelers try to correct things. Will Dan Rooney be heard at those meeting?

Mehno can be reached at

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