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Pittsburgh Steelers fans, community say a final goodbye to Franco Harris

Fans, community say a final farewell to Franco Harris
Fans, community say a final farewell to Franco Harris 02:19

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A picture of Franco Harris was displayed on the digital billboard on the side of Acrisure Stadium.

Below that sign, fans lined up to say their final goodbyes to the legendary running back who died on Dec. 20, 2022. Tuesday's public visitation hosted a steady stream of people from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Michael Bertsch, communications manager for the Pittsburgh Steelers, couldn't give an exact number of visitors but estimated the total to be in the thousands.

Howard Stuvaints of Homewood was the first person in line. He said he showed up around 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

"Seventy-two years of life, no one had nothing bad to say about this man," Stuvaints said.

Patty Vella of Baldwin was right behind Stuvaints and said Harris "optimized Pittsburgh."

"He was just the nicest, genuine. He was Pittsburgh," Vella said. "It's a shame. He will really be missed."

Vella, like most of the people who showed up for the visitation, said they'd never met Harris but acknowledged what a great loss this is for the Harris family, fans and the Steelers franchise.

"He meant everything to us, and that's why we're here," one woman said Tuesday.

The line that began forming around 11 a.m. was full of people bundled up in black and gold clothing.

"I had to be here. I don't care what the weather would have been," another woman said.  

The woman was a rookie for the Pittsburgh Passion women's football team, which Harris co-owned.

Once the visitation started, Bertsch estimated that at times, people waited around 45 minutes before getting the opportunity to go into the PNC Champions Club where Harris' casket was.

Bertsch said family members, including Dana and Dok Harris, were at the visitation greeting guests. He said Dana, Harris' wife, took a moment with every person who came through to pay respects to her husband.

"It's time to pay respects for a man who gave so much to us," one woman said Tuesday.

Another Pittsburgh Passion player added, "Him being the person that he is, he's definitely a trailblazer and he left a mark on all of us."

Since his death, the monument that pays tribute to the Immaculate Reception has become a growing memorial. People have left flowers, artwork and notes behind to honor Harris. 

"Talk about a man who was larger than life," Stuvaints said. "But he treated everybody just as large as he was."

It's unclear how Harris died. He was 72 years old.

"They say you don't live forever," one man said while standing in line. "But in Pittsburgh, Franco will live forever."

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