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May 26, 2024

Former Nittany Lion and NFL Hall of Famer Franco Harris Passes



UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Former Nittany Lion standout and Pro Football Hall of Famer Franco Harris passed away Wednesday. He was 72.


Harris, who was a three-time Penn State Football letterman, played a significant role in the Nittany Lions’ 29-4 mark from 1969-71. He teamed with All-American Lydell Mitchell to form one of the nation’s top running back tandems. Following his stellar collegiate career, Harris was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the No. 12 overall pick of the 1972 NFL Draft where he teamed with former Penn State teammate Jack Ham to bring four Super Bowl titles to Pittsburgh.


“Our thoughts are with Franco Harris’ wife, Dana, and we send our deepest condolences to his entire family, his friends, the Steelers organization and all whose lives were impacted by Franco,” said Penn State Football Head Coach James Franklin. “His professional career and accomplishments speak for itself as a Pro Football Hall of Famer, four-time Super Bowl Champion and nine-time Pro Bowl selection, but it was his toughness and team-first approach as a Nittany Lion that will long be remembered by Penn Staters. Franco was a true steward of the Blue & White and he will be sorely missed.”


“As a child growing up in the Midwest, Franco Harris was a legendary figure, who I was always enamored with,” said Penn State Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Dr. Patrick Kraft. “When I was blessed to join the Penn State family earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to get to know Franco and his wife, Dana, very well. They have been so gracious with their kindness and support. Franco was known for his grit and unrelenting style on the field but his compassion, warmth, generosity off the field will leave a lasting impression on me. I am heartbroken for all who loved him. We have lost a true legend and friend.”


The Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl IX, Harris was selected to nine Pro Bowls during his tremendous 13-year NFL career. He topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark in eight seasons and joined Ham on the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1970’s. Harris spent 12 seasons with the Steelers and finished his career with Seattle in 1984.


Friday marks the 50th anniversary of Harris’ “Immaculate Reception” in the final seconds of the 1972 AFC divisional playoff game against the Oakland Raiders was voted as the greatest play in NFL history. The Pittsburgh Steelers are scheduled to retire Harris’ No. 32 jersey at Saturday’s game against the Raiders as part of the celebration of the anniversary of the “Immaculate Reception.”


A product of Mount Holly, New Jersey, Harris was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.


He currently sits in the top 20 in program history with 2,002 career rushing yards. He scored 24 touchdowns on the ground during his Nittany Lion career. In 1989, he was inducted into the Orange Bowl Hall of Fame.


A 1972 Penn State graduate, Harris was a long-time supporter of Special Olympics. The day after the Blue-White Game in 2010, he greeted the more than 800 runners and walkers in the inaugural Beaver Stadium Run as they entered the south tunnel of Beaver Stadium and made their way to the finish line. The event raised more than $35,000 for Special Olympics Pennsylvania. Harris also served as the honorary chair for the first Special Olympics Pennsylvania state Summer Games, held annually on Penn State’s University Park campus.


Harris is survived by his wife, Dana Dokmanovich, and his son, Dok.

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