The Pittsburgh Steelers practiced Wednesday with heavy hearts, hours after learning of Franco Harris’ sudden death at 72. Harris was scheduled to attend his jersey retirement during the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, when he caught a ricochet pass for a walk-off touchdown to give the franchise its first playoff victory. In an emotional press conference, Steelers’ veteran defensive end Cameron Heyward commented on Harris’ off the field accomplishments according to the team’s YouTube channel.
“I think everybody knows that Franco, not only for the work he did on the field but off the field,” Heyward said about the late Steelers’ legend. “I think he was there making change, being involved in anything he could. I think that’s the way that group was represented. You look at mean Joe Greene, guys like him and Franco I felt like led the charge in that front. You know, outspoken, didn’t hide behind anything, but was a person of other people.”
There are some legendary athletes that are not known as great people off the field. Harris didn’t fall into that category. He won the Man Of The Year award (now known as the Walter Payton Award) in 1976, an award that he could have won nearly any year he played. After retiring from the NFL, Harris teamed up with his former Penn State teammate Lydell Mitchell to give back to the community. The duo founded Super Bakery Inc. in 1990, which provides school children and community members with preservative-free and nutritious pastries. This made the well-known “super doughnut”, which contained nutrients.
Harris got his college degree in Food Service and Administration, which he utilized in his philanthropic work. Indeed, along with finding Super Bakery Inc. as he was also on the advisory board of Penn State’s Center for Food Innovation.
Harris also founded the company Silversport which sold odor-free clothes. This had tiny silver components that combated odor-causing bacteria in clothes and was a cause that Harris was also committed to.
Harris’ influence to current Steelers is clear, especially with Heyward. Heyward is the Steelers’ Walter Payton Man Of The Year nominee, and has a long record of giving back to the community. His passing is a great loss for the organization, its fans, and the community as a whole. However, his memory of giving back to the community will be honored by players like Heyward.
“You look at Franco,” Heyward said, “I think everybody knows him not only for the work he did on the field, but off the field. I think he was there making change, being involved in anything he could. I think that’s the way that group was represented. You look at mean Joe and guys like him and Franco I felt like led the charge in that front. You know, outspoken, didn’t hide behind anything, but was a person of other people.”