After Pittsburgh Steelers legend and NFL Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris unexpectedly passed away earlier this week, just a few days before he was due to get his number retired the day after the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, the Steelers honored him by wearing his jersey as they arrived to their game against the Las Vegas Raiders. According to Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, the idea originated from Steelers second-year tight end Pat Freiermuth, who shares his Penn State alma mater with Harris.
“Penn State man, Pat Freiermuth. I was sitting with him on the back patio on Wednesday, we were getting ready to go to practice and it was his suggestion,” Tomlin said during his postgame press conference via the team’s YouTube channel.
Freiermuth and Harris shared a close relationship off the field, as not only did they both come from the same school, but Harris announced Freiermuth’s selection in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The other day, Freiermuth mentioned that he had gone out to dinner on a few occasions with Harris and his wife, and the two were continuing to build their relationship.
The loss of Harris turned the tide of what was going to be a purely celebratory occasion at Acrisure Stadium to one with a somber undertone, as instead of Harris rallying the crowd and being there for his own number retirement ceremony, his wife and son stood in his place as a tribute video played on the jumbotron. The Steelers, while not playing exceptionally well, were still able to pull out a win and honor Harris’ legacy, and Freiermuth was one of the big reasons why.
The tight end had seven catches for 66 yards, both game-high totals, while also coming up clutch on Pittsburgh’s eventual game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. It was important for the team to honor Harris’ legacy and not put up a dud today, and while it took a while for the offense to get going, Freiermuth was a key cog in making sure the team moved the ball and did what they had to do to in order to find the end zone.
It was an awesome gesture for the team to all wear Harris’ jersey, so credit Freiermuth for coming up with it. It’s clear that despite being a few decades removed from his playing days that Harris still made a tremendous impact on the current team, and it was nice to see them honor him today in a simple, yet profound way.