All right, I want to talk about if you were a kid growing up in the 1970s and you watched the NFL, you invariably watched the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now as a kid growing up in the New York area, we watched the Giants, we watched the Jets, but the Steelers were on a lot.
And it was hard not to at least respect the Steelers. And one of the things that the Steelers did was master the NFL draft. And Franco Harris, who was a first round pick in the 1972 draft, one of several, and I say several, I shouldn't even, that number's too low, about a dozen Hall of Famers that were drafted in like a five or six year span. Franco Harris passed away yesterday. And it is just, it is a sad day. And we're talking with Jim Wexell right now who wrote a book on the clock, behind the scenes with the Pittsburgh Steelers at the NFL draft.
So sir, I appreciate your time. I know it's a hard day for a lot of people who grew up loving and following the Steelers, because Harris was such a gentleman and such a great player and ambassador for the game and for the Steelers. Quickly, before we talk about that, the draft and all of that, your thoughts on Harris and his place in not only Steelers lore but the NFL. Well, I'll just start by saying this, my second phone interview and the first one was a local station. I didn't intend to be the therapist, but it turned out that some of the stories I told, you know, because I went back and used excerpts from my book on Franco in today's column for Steel City Insider. And I've been up since early writing and coming to grips with all this, that I seem to be a couple hours ahead of everybody here in Pittsburgh.
And so I acted as therapist with these stories that began to amuse. And that's when I first realized how rocked the good folk here are by what happened. The timing, you know, three days before the 50th anniversary of his signature moment, how he was thrust with fate, how he turned the fortunes around like a lightning bolt.
There was a first win in playoff history and then they won four Super Bowls. And then he left, as Joe Green said about a month ago, we didn't do much before Franco. We didn't do much after. Well, Frank was here. We did a whole lot. And that's Joe Green talking who is generally considered the guy that turned it around. But his first year they were one in 14 or whatever, one in 13.
Yeah. Franco really turned it around. And my understanding is he was going to get his number retired Friday at a ceremony that I was having a lunch with. I was inviting my daughter, hoping that she could meet Franco. Franco has been around as an ambassador here for a long time. If you see Franco all the time, you don't really you take it for granted. And so my daughter, who had been away to college and did not know anything about Franco, I was looking forward to her meeting him. And he's just been that ambassador, as Mike Tomlin said yesterday, in what is serving as a great eulogy before Franco passed in Mike's weekly press conference, he was asked about the significance of Franco in the Immaculate Reception because the 50th anniversary is Friday. And Tomlin said something in the middle of all of his great stuff about the significance.
That was the greatest play. And he said, Franco is a guy that embraces all the responsibility of being him. I thought that was so spot on because that's what Franco did as an ambassador, easily handled what fate had thrust to him. You know, mere mortals like you and I would have fate thrust upon us and say, oh, this is cool. I'll deal with this for a year or two.
But then you've all got to go away. Franco was the ambassador and he was he reveled in and he was great. You said everything he did. Jim Wexell is joining us here.
By the way, he's got a website, jimwexell.com. He's got books on the Steelers on the clock, Paul Amalo and others. Here's the thing about it, because you mentioned he handled it so easily. When I think about Franco Harris's career, and this may be this might be a mischaracterization because I'm not trying to say that he wasn't a rugged, tough football player, because you have to be, especially if you played football in the 70s. He made the position look easy because Harris would just get his yards and then just kind of he never looked like he was, you know, in a rush. He'd just get his yards and then ease to the sideline and out of bounds like, yep, I just gained seven on you.
Second and three. Did is that a mischaracterization of him because he made it look easy? No, that is not a mischaracterization that I thought you were going to go somewhere else. But yes, in the end and after Jim Brown mocked him because he was closing on Jim Brown. Yeah, I can't remember if he passed him or not because Walter and Emmett have since zoom passed them all.
But anyway, Jim Brown was a little resentful and remarked about Franco going out of bounds. And that became a signature. But in the beginning, you know, I don't know that that was as much a signature as making it look easy otherwise because all the scouting reports I've noticed this as I was researching for my book, the top Scouts with the great comment they would make about his assets were he cuts at full speed. And so that makes it all look easy. You can cut at full speed.
That's something subtle that you only notice if you're a top notch scout or a linebacker trying to tackle it that cutting at full speed, we all see the guy's gear down and juke or whatever they have to do to cut. Yeah, boy he with all that power and grace. Yes, he made it look easy.
So that what you said characterizes him exactly. Yeah, by the way, he was about 200 or so yards short of Jim Brown, which I'm sure nowadays Jim Brown probably thinks and looks back differently on Franco Harris, we all get once all of that all of the competitiveness is over. I think we all probably look back on things just a little bit differently. It's funny how there were two different eras of those Steelers, right? There was the we're going to run the ball at you all day long Rocky Blyer part of that as well. And then there was the Terry Bradshaw chucking it down the field to Lynn Swan and john Stallworth all day. We're not all day but everything was it seemed like everything was a bomb. We called them bombs not go routes back in the back in the 70s. But so it was two different types of teams.
But Harris was maybe the most important part offensively on both. I know, I know. And you know, it's funny when you say, and I'm bombs, I'm with you on bombs.
And we're going to continue to use them until I'm dead. So they changed the rules to stop Franco and the Steelers. And that just opened it up for Bradshaw on the bombs, right? You know, they wanted to draft john Stallworth with the first pick of the great 74 draft, but Chuck was talked out of it. So they got Lynn Swan and john Stallworth when they already had Frank Lewis and Ron Shanklin. So they got Stallworth and they wait, wait a second, they wanted to take Stallworth in the first round. And they got him in the fourth round. Yeah, and this is fully detailed in my book. There's a great bill none went down to Alabama at M. It was a few other scouts were there to see Tennessee State, the home of big, too tall Jones.
Yes. And the fourth pick of the draft was a a middle linebacker from Tennessee State, whom was destroyed by Mike Webster in the Senior Bowl and the Steelers got Webster in a fifth round in the fourth pick of the draft. I forget his name.
Nobody remembers his name he washed out. But they were at the Alabama A&M and Tennessee State game. And none stayed after to top retime Stallworth and get a tape of that game. Make sure he got it and took it home and didn't give it back for the rest of the league to see it circulated around the Steelers offices and became known as the Don Hudson tape.
Oh, my God. John Stallworth was that good. Chuck Knoll couldn't stop watching it and wanted him in the first round.
And they're like, don't worry. He runs a four six. But everyone else has him at four eight.
And Lin Swan has played bigger games, been on TV under four or five five. We can get away with waiting for Stallworth. No, sir. You better be right. They got him in the fourth round.
Look, first of all, would love people to go get your book on the clock. But if you want to see the Steelers draft history, go to pro football reference dot com and just look up Steelers draft history from 1969 when they took mean Joe Green in the first round through 1974 when they drafted Hall of Famers in the first, second, fourth and fifth rounds. They drafted nine Hall of Famers in a six year span and a bunch of you knew football back then. A bunch of other players who were instrumental in those four Super Bowl wins in six years. Elsie Greenwood was a tenth round pick, which that in and of itself is mind blowing.
I will never forget the yellow shoes. Final thing before we before we let you go, Jim, just when when you think Harris as a person, what are you thinking? Oh, just a man that couldn't be. Couldn't have fear or or anger. You know, you talked about Jim Brown and him, Jim Brown becoming resentful.
We all know Jim Brown. We we know he he can be a surly guy, but we love that competitiveness that he had. What a warrior. Well, Franco was a warrior, but would never, ever have any resent of anybody approaching his records. And I just that's one thing.
And there are so many. The last the only time I really talked to Franco personally, we had a mutual friend who was sick and he said, oh, I'm going to call him. And he did call him because before I could tell the mutual friend to expect a call from Franco Harris, Franco had already called.
And so, you know, that was the last meeting that was in November. And, you know, I there are you going to have to talk to other people who are smarter and been there longer to better define Franco. But that's a little bit I can tell you what a fine gentleman on the clock written by Jim Wexell. I appreciate your time.
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