Harris, a Hall of Fame running back who spent 12 seasons in Pittsburgh, passed away a day before the Steelers officially retired his jersey at halftime of the team's victory over the Las Vegas Raiders this past Christmas Eve. Harris' wife, Dana, and son, Dok, were present at Saturday's ceremony and also served as honorary captains.
Scores of fans arrived early to attend the ceremony honoring Harris, who last winter became the third former player to have his number retired by the franchise.
Several of Harris' former teammates, including Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount and running back Rocky Bleier, also took part in the ceremony.
"Number 32 is more than just a number, it's a memory," said Bleier, who shared a backfield with Harris for 10 seasons.
The Steelers recently added an exhibit inside their Hall of Honor honoring the three Steelers who have had their jerseys retired: Harris, former teammate Joe Greene and Ernie Stautner, a Hall of Fame defensive lineman who played for the team from 1950-63.
One of the most influential players in franchise history, Harris' accomplishments with the Steelers includes winning the 1972 Offensive Rookie of the Year, Super Bowl IX MVP and nine consecutive Pro Bowl selections. Harris is also the Super Bowl's career rushing leader and remains the Steelers' franchise career leader with 12,120 rushing yards and 91 rushing touchdowns. He added an additional 1,556 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns in 19 postseason games and was a force in each of Pittsburgh's four Super Bowl wins from 1974-79.
Been watching Franco Harris highlights for like the last hour, and man — it doesn’t get talked about much because it’s always about the Immaculate Reception or how nice of a guy he was, but he had a truly unique running style with his combination of size, speed and power. pic.twitter.com/3q4XF4vOj9— Mike Kennedy (@MikeKennedyNFL) December 31, 2022
Harris' impact in Pittsburgh goes beyond awards and stats, however. His breakout rookie season propelled Pittsburgh to its first-ever division crown. His "Immaculate Reception" in that year's divisional playoff game over the Raiders resulted in the franchise's first playoff win.
"My rookie year was an incredible year," Harris told CBS Sports in 2021. "That year, [Steelers fans] went crazy. Franco's Italian Army popped up. And then we had all these fan clubs pop up. That generated so much enthusiasm and so much of a following. And it's still there today with Steelers Nation. That was a pretty incredible rookie year. I don't know if anybody ever had as much fun in their rookie year as I did. Going from the worst of all time to this incredible season, to an incredible base of fans to win our first playoff game the way that we won it and to go from there. It was a dream rookie season."
The success Harris and his teammates enjoyed five decades ago continues to be felt within the Steelers' organization. That, Harris said, is what he is most proud of regarding he and his teammates' improbable run.
"They had a couple of down years here and there, but the Steelers overall have kept their level of play at that great level," Harris said. "They went on to win a couple more Super Bowls and be the first one to win six. The history continues. The legacy continues. That's what I'm most proud of is that they've kept that winning spirit and that winning attitude there."