(Photos and video by Beth Hollerich)
Only a couple of onlookers were on hand at 11:05 a.m. Friday to see Pittsburgh Steelers great and NFL Hall of Famer Franco Harris on the move again, accompanied by his commemorative pal, George Washington.
That’s when workers from Senator John Heinz History Center arrived to take Franco (the pride of Steelers Nation) and George (well, the father of Our Nation) from their customary spots greeting travelers in the Airside Terminal.
Don’t fret Steelers fans: Unlike Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, Franco and George will be back soon.
After 13 years of posing for countless pictures, the two icons could use a bit of a refresh, and Heinz Center is giving both of them a complete overhaul. Think of them as being on the Physically Unable to Perform list for now, but soon to be back in action.
Franco Harris, of course, is best known for “The Immaculate Reception,” the play that still stands as one of those “I remember where I was” moments for Steelers fans – even though many fans and the makers of the NBC TV show “This Is Us” don’t clearly remember the details.
At 3:29 p.m. on Dec. 23, 1972, with 30 seconds left in the game and the Steelers trailing, quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw a pass that either bounced off the hands of receiver John Fuqua or off the helmet of defender Jack Tatum (there’s some controversy there) and was scooped up by Harris before it hit the ground. Harris ran for the winning touchdown, driving 50,327 crazed Steelers fans even nuttier.
But the greatest Steelers play of all time was not seen on live on TV in the area because the 1972 AFC playoff game with the Raiders was blacked out in the local television market.
Maybe that lack of clarity is one of the things that makes the play, which NFL Films has named the greatest play of all time, so special that there are multiple monuments to it throughout the region, including the one at Pittsburgh International Airport.
Coincidentally, the pair arrived at the airport just days prior to the Steelers defeating the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL in 2006.
Over the years, George and Franco have played parts in the NFL Network’s “A Football Life” episode dedicated to The Immaculate Reception, faced off in a hilarious YouTube rap battle (look it up, this is a family news site), inspired questions on “Jeopardy!” and may have been featured in more selfies and social media posts than any other Pittsburgh landmark except the city’s skyline.
From the time they were donated by the History Center as part of its “Relive a Few Classic Battles” campaign, the pair have been extremely popular, although more than a few passersby have wondered aloud, in Pittsburghese, “Why’d dey put dat New England Patriot next to Franco, n’at?”
Today, about 25,000 people walk past them each day on their way to vacations, funerals, business meetings and visits to loved ones, all the while being reminded that – from George Washington’s involvement in the French and Indian War to Franco scoring the Steelers’ first ever postseason touchdown and beyond – Pittsburgh has made a profound impact on the world in so many different ways.
See you soon, Franco and George!