Franco Harris is a retired American football player. He was born in March 7, 1950 to an African American father and an Italian mother. He studied at Rancocas Valley Regional High School in New Jersey and later at Penn State University. Here he played for the team “Littany Lions” as a fullback and served as a blocker for fellow teammate and All-American running back Lydell Mitchell. Although he was a blocker, he chalked up almost 1400 yards on the board and scored 14 touchdowns in his college career. In 1970, he was the leading scorer on his college team and had an impressive record overall.
Harris was drafted to the National Football League in 1972 by the team “Pittsburgh Steelers” and was picked as the 13th selection in the first round. Many critics commented that Mitchell should have been picked instead of Harris, but the former was instead selected by the team “Baltimore Colts” in the same NFL Draft. Harris, however, cleared all doubts by starting his career with a bang. In his first season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he had 188 carries, had run for 10 touchdowns and caught three touchdown passes. This led him to be named the National Football League’s “Rookie of the Year” by The Sporting News and United Press International.
His professional career lasted for 13 seasons, 12 of which he spent with the Pittsburgh Steelers. During this time, his statistics were in the top of the league and he was an invaluable asset to his team. He helped them win four Super Bowls in 1975, 1976, 1979, and 1980. In their very first victory in 1975, the Steelers defeated the Minnesota Vikings 16-6. Harris was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament, making him not only the first African American, but also the first Italian American to be given this honor. He was very popular with Italian Americans in Pittsburgh, who called themselves “Franco’s Italian Army” and wore his jersey number “32” on their helmets.
Around 1983, Franco Harris had a conflict with the Rooney family, who owned and managed the Pittsburgh Steelers football team. He wanted a pay raise, which the family refused to grant as they believed that after spending more than 10 years with the league, Harris was likely nearing the end of his career. The concept of free agent came much later, however, Harris threatened to quit. The Rooneys persisted and as a result, after a twelve year stint with the Steelers, Harris transferred to the Seattle Seahawks in 1984. He only played eight games with them, and retired just shy of breaking the record for running the most yards set by Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns.
After his retirement, Harris and the Rooney’s patched up their conflict. His jersey was never officially retired by the Steelers, but has never been used since. Franco Harris has been included on the list of 100 Greatest Football Players complied by the Sporting News in 1999. A life size statue of him has been erected at Pittsburgh International Airport by the Pennsylvania Sports Museum. He has been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well the New Jersey Hall of Fame. Since his retirement he has co-founded a bakery business with his friend Mitchell and also owns the “Pittsburgh Passion” football team, ranked the best female football team in the world.