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Steelers to retire Franco Harris' No. 32 jersey during Christmas Eve game against Raiders

The central figure of a legendary moment in Steelers history is receiving his due.

Pittsburgh will retire Franco Harris' No. 32 at halftime of the team's Week 16 game against the Las Vegas Raiders, the team announced Tuesday.

"I am thrilled we are going to honor Franco with this recognition by retiring his No. 32 jersey," Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a statement. "This is the 50th anniversary of one of the most memorable plays in NFL history; one that changed the course of our success with his 'Immaculate Reception' in 1972. My grandfather was once quoted as saying: 'Before Franco got here, we didn't win much; Since he got here, we don't lose.' I think that sums it up pretty good.

"Franco's impact on the franchise would be hard to overstate. That is why I think it is fitting and appropriate that we recognize Franco's remarkable career by retiring his Number 32 at our game on December 24."

The setting -- a Christmas eve prime-time game in Pittsburgh against the Raiders airing on NFL Network -- is fitting for retiring the number worn by a pillar of the franchise. Pittsburgh was a lowly club in its early years, but enjoyed a long-lasting shift toward legitimacy starting with the arrival of head coach Chuck Noll, defensive lineman Joe Greene, quarterback Terry Bradshaw and Harris. The last of that group made the most important catch in Steelers history to that point, snatching a deflected pass from the minuscule space remaining between his hands and the Three Rivers Stadium turf and taking it for a game-winning touchdown to propel the Steelers past the then-Oakland Raiders to the AFC Championship Game.

Though its legitimacy is still questioned today, the play was so significant, a statue depicting Harris catching the pass greets travelers who arrive at Pittsburgh International Airport. It is synonymous with the rise of the Steelers and both their standing in Pittsburgh and the NFL.

The Steelers went on to lose to the undefeated Dolphins in the conference title game, but the victory stood as Pittsburgh's first postseason triumph in franchise history. From there, the Steelers became the dominant team of the 1970s, winning four Super Bowls between 1974 and 1979. As television broadcasts popularized the sport, Pittsburgh became a frequent focus of NFL coverage across the United States, and the loyal, passionate Steeler Nation was born.

It's fair to wonder if any of that happens without Franco's logic-defying touchdown reception. He certainly earned his place in Steelers history, and decades after retiring, the franchise will honor him accordingly.

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