The tone around Pittsburgh the past several days has been no doubt somber in the wake of the passing of one of the city’s favored adopted sons, the legendary Steelers Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris. But today is and must be as much a day of joy and celebration.
Although a day later, today is the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception and will coincide with the retirement of Harris’ no. 32 jersey. These are two beautiful things in the history of the Steelers franchise and of the modern history of the city itself.
But there’s also a game to play, and now the players of today’s team are more fired up than ever to make sure they do everything to pay the proper respects to Harris and his memory by taking it to the Las Vegas Raiders, the team, then in Oakland, that was on the other side of that immaculate moment in 1972.
While head coach Mike Tomlin said earlier in the week that they would not be looking to Harris’ death as inspiration, he can only speak globally for the team—just like his streak of non-losing seasons. He might not talk about it, but the players will gravitate toward it. And they are now as well.
“This was a huge game before the news of Franco’s passing even hit and now it’s obviously ramped up more”, outside linebacker T.J. Watt told reporters yesterday, via Brooke Pryor of ESPN. “I think we’re going to see tomorrow just the impact that he had on people when the fans show up and show the appreciation for all that he’s done for Steeler Nation”.
The atmosphere should be truly electric tonight, even on such a cold and bitter day, when they honor Harris and retire his number in ceremony. You’ll no doubt hear chants like ‘Here we go Franco’ and whatever variations the fans will come up with.
It should be celebratory, even coming so shortly after his passing. Even though he was supposed to be here, center stage, for it all. It feels like we’ve been robbed of something, having come so close to the moment. But the moment is here even if he is not, and it was always bigger than one mortal man, no matter how special.
The Immaculate Reception and its legacy is for everybody—even the Raiders. It’s an iconic moment that transcends the sport itself and has long since entered the popular lexicon. Even the younger generation today learns about it on YouTube, as Tomlin said earlier in the week. So today is for everybody, even if Franco is no longer here. Let’s make sure we remember that tonight.