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Penn State in the NFL

‘A Friend’: Steelers Teammate Pays Tribute to Former Penn State RB Franco Harris

Before becoming an NFL and Pittsburgh legend with the Steelers, Franco Harris was part of what’s still the most famous running back duo in Penn State history along with Lydell Mitchell. 

After Penn State, Harris became part of the most famous RB tandem in Steelers history with Rocky Bleier.

The Steelers honored Harris Saturday evening ahead of the team’s preseason game with the Bills at Acrisure Stadium.

In the stadium’s FedEx Great Hall, the Steelers put on a ceremony to unveil a display showcasing Harris’s No. 32 jersey as one of the three the team’s retired.

Steelers radio analyst Craig Wolfley emceed the roughly 15-minute ceremony. Bleier and team owner Art Rooney II also spoke, along with Harris’s widow, Dana. Their son, Dok, was also in attendance. 

Sadly, Harris passed away last December three days before the team retired his jersey. 

Harris wouldn’t have been happy about having a big ceremony in his honor. 

 Bleier would know.

Bleier was Harris’ teammate for nine seasons, and the two formed what’s still the most iconic backfield tandem in franchise history.

Harris and Bleier– or “Franco and Rocky”, as Steelers fans more commonly refer to them– each rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 1976, still the only time a Steelers backfield tandem has accomplished that feat. 

For decades after they retired from the NFL, the two remained fixtures in the Pittsburgh community. Harris passed away last December, and Bleier, now 77, spoke on his teammate and friend’s behalf in Acrisure Stadium’s FedEx Great Hall Saturday, Aug. 19.

The occasion? The Steelers unveiled a display honoring Harris that featured his No. 32 jersey, which the team retired last Chrismas Even three days after his death.

It was an occasion that Bleier and some of Harris’s other teammates, such as Mel Blount and “Mean” Joe Greene, were happy to be on hand for.

For Bleier, it wasn’t something Harris — known for his humility perhaps as much as any Steeler ever — would have been comfortable with. 

“Oh, he would have been embarrassed,” Bleier said with a laugh. “He would have said, ‘Oh, no no no no, don’t do this.'”

Bleier spoke at the roughly 15-minute ceremony along with Steelers radio analyst Craig Wolfley — who emceed the event — as well as Steelers president Art Rooney III and Harris’s widow, Dana. Harris’s son, Dok, was also in attendance. 

As Bleier pointed out, Harris’s presence in Pittsburgh both during and after his playing days was so strong that many of the fans in attendance for the ceremony have memories of No. 32. 

“As I said in my little announcement is that it’s (32) not a number, it will be a memory. Each and every one of these fans over here will have a memory of Franco at one time or another. Whether they crossed paths, shook hands. So he will be long embedded in Steeler nation.”

Rooney pointed out in his brief speech that Harris is the first offensive player to have his number retired by the Steelers. The other two, Greene (No. 75) and Ernie Stautner (No. 70) were defensive tackles. 

Overall, Bleier will remember Harris for who he was as a man, not what he did while wearing No. 32. 

“A friend,” Blier said, “more of a friend than a teammate or anything. Because he was that kind of a guy that you just wanted to be friends with, and I was fortunate enough to be his friend.”

So although Penn State legend Harris might not have loved the idea of a ceremony in his honor, Bleier and all of Steelers nation agree that he earned the recognition. 

“He would not have been very happy about all this,” Bleier said, “but he deserves it.”

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