The Immaculate Reception has never looked better.
After a six-month absence for extensive refurbishment, the beloved life-size figure memorializing Franco Harris’ legendary catch in a 1972 Pittsburgh Steelers playoff game, and its partner in crime, a statue of a young George Washington visiting Pittsburgh for the first time, have returned to Pittsburgh International Airport.
After a 13-year stint welcoming arrivals in the Airside Terminal, the odd couple underwent extensive work by conservators at the Sen. John Heinz History Center, which loans the figures to the airport. Made of fiberglass material, the original lifelike figures were cast from face molds. Conservators worked with Franco to create an exact cast of his face and an authentic life mask for George. In other words, the statues are as close as you can get to the real thing.
As a bonus, George got a brand new coat and Franco’s uniform received a thorough cleaning. The history center also added a special ultraviolet protectant to the figures to prevent fading.
The real Harris, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, spoke at the unveiling of the refurbished figures at a special event at the airport on Thursday, along with Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis and Heinz History Center CEO Andrew Masich.
“Through time, we all need to be upgraded, right?” Harris said. “And after 13 years, they took me back, refurbished (the figure) and, I have to admit, it’s looking pretty good.”
Airport employees were joined by tourism officials, legislative staffers and delighted passengers at a pep-rally style gathering celebrating the figures’ return as well as the Steelers’ upcoming home opener. Terrible Towels were waved and chants of “Here we go, Steelers!” highlighted the gathering.
After the festivities, George and Franco got back to work greeting travelers, who immediately began taking selfies with them.
An immaculate reception, indeed.
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