When Steelers legend Franco Harris died unexpectedly on Dec. 20, fans flocked to his lifelike figure in Pittsburgh International Airport’s Airside Terminal to pay their respects.
In fact, people inundated the airport with requests to get through the security checkpoint even though they had not bought a plane ticket because they wanted to visit the figure — requests that unfortunately could not be fulfilled.
However, that got airport staff thinking. And on Tuesday, the figures of Franco Harris and fellow historical figures George Washington and Nellie Bly moved to the Landside Terminal where visitors can see them every day, with or without a ticket.
“Franco Harris was a man of the people, and we wanted to give fans access to him regardless of whether they’re traveling or not,” said Keny Marshall, Arts & Culture Manager at the airport. “He represents so many of the best parts of Pittsburgh, and now his statue is doing that in a much more prominent position.”
In partnership with the Heinz History Center, which loans the figures to the airport, staff built out a space for the figures behind the Information Desk near the primary TSA checkpoint in the Landside Terminal.
Now, anyone can visit the figures and arriving passengers accustomed to greeting Franco on their return home can see him after they exit the trains on the Landside platform.
The Hall of Fame running back, whose iconic “Immaculate Reception” is memorialized by the figure, was an immensely popular figure in Pittsburgh — not just for his on-field exploits, but for his decades of generosity and leadership in the community after he retired.
His figure, which was first stationed at the airport nearly 20 years ago, underwent a full refurbishment in 2019. It has become a beacon of sorts for Pittsburghers and Steelers fans who “know they’re home” when they see Franco.
“We appreciate how important he’s become to so many of our passengers, and we really feel this is the best way to share him with the region,” Marshall said. “And, of course, we couldn’t leave his friends Nellie and George behind.”