Keep running – a reflection on the death of Franco Harris

This morning brought the news that

Franco Harris, Hall of Fame running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers

died unexpectedly last night at age 72.

Recognized as one of the great running backs in the NFL,

Franco played on four Super Bowl champions

and still holds Super Bowl records

as well as multiple Steelers records.

He stood at the center of an iconic moment in the 1972 playoffs.

The Steelers, who had experienced a distinct lack of success as a team,

trailed the Oakland Raiders.

With time running out, a desperation pass ricocheted

off a player or players whose name remains unknown.

The ball fell toward the ground.

The hopes of Steelers players and supporters began to sink.

For a moment, defeat loomed. Again.

The moment of despair proved fleeting.

Then, Franco Harris, who kept running as the play developed,

scooped up the ball and kept running into the end zone

for a Steelers touchdown and a victory that helped launch a dynasty.

It would be false to say that Franco is a hero of my childhood—

he was only four years older than me.

It would be true to say that in my life,

I have owned two shirts that bore the name of athlete and that athlete’s number:

Roberto Clemente 21.

Franco Harris. 32.

Although I never had the privilege to meet Franco in person,

I did visit his statue every time I was in the Pittsburgh airport.

I remember and grieve this day for:

an elite athlete,

a valued teammate

a respected adversary.

I remember and grieve this day for:

a husband, father, family man,

a mentor,

an encourager.

I remember and grieve this day for:

an advocate for racial justice,

an individual who reached out to people in need,

an ambassador for Pittsburgh.

I remember and grieve this day for

a man described by teammates, opponents, and most everyone who knew him

on the field or off the field as:

kind,

friendly,

gracious,

good,

humble,

accommodating,

gentle,

and loving.

As I remember,

and as I grieve,

I give thanks that

I saw Franco Harris play

I give thanks that

I sawFranco Harris live.

Keep running.

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