Oh, no. As if things weren't bad enough. Now, this, First, the Redskins lose to the unholy Saints of New Orleans. At the same time, the Steelers the Redskins as they go to Pittsburg Sunday? This: Franco Harris thinks it is a big game. Oh, no. Tie down your hats, Skinnos, because Franco loves these big games.
"The second half of the season, things, things always mean so much." Harris said yesterday. I just look at it, it's a situation, win or else, and I have to go all out. There is no opportunity for error and no opportunity for a second chance. It is either win or lose."
"And I always want to be the winner. Right now, it is a rough situation. Each week, every game is a big game now, because it is important to get the home-field advantage for the playoffs. Regular games are important, too, but the second half of the season is more important."
In big games, Franco Harris is a man alone.
Jim Brown? Not bad. O. J. Simpson? He could do it, too. The little black numbers in the record books like Harris best, though. Every playoff or Super Bowl rushing record worth having belongs to Harris. In 14 postseason games, 11 of them victories by the Steelers (who had never played in any playoff before Harris arrived in 1972), Harris has run for 1,274 yards, and 14 touchdowns.
We could go on with numbers. With 7,987 yards, Harris is the fifth leading rusher in NFL history . . . Only three runners ever gained 7,000 yards in their first seven seasons: Brown, O. J. rand Harris. With 13 more yards Sunday, Harris will join Brown and O. J. at the 8,000 mark in eight seasons . . . . Harris has 33 100-yard games, 17 two-touchdown games, 67 touchdowns (fifth best ever) . . . and --
He is anonymous.
"Franco is the unknown superstar," said a Pittsburgh newspaperman.
"Even we rarely write about him. He's very private."
"Franco prefers to hide after a game," said the Steelers' publicity man, Joe Gordon. "But he's just phenomenal at working with charities and hospitals."
So after Harris scored on a 48-yard run against Dallas last week, there wasn't a quote from his in the Pittsburgh morning paper. Sports Illustrated ran his picture on the cover this week; no quotes there, either.
Wait a minute. Jim Brown turned his 12,000 yards into an acting career. O. J. leaps suitcases in airports to sell rental cars. Celebrity is out there, Franco. Joe Namath plays one big game in his life and he gets rich selling panty hose. For hitting a guy a foot shorter than him, Too Tall Jones is going to get $70,000 this afternoon.
Why, Franco, aren't you famous?
"It's just not me, basically, he said.
And that's about all Franco Harris said. When someone suggested that it is not common for great players to avoid fame while seeking out work with charities, Harris disagreed.
"A lot of guys give of themselves," he said. "They really want to help, to do their part."
Harris, the Pittsburgh newspaperman said, is "a murderous soft touch. Anytime a charity calls up, Franco is right there. One time, there was this kid baton twirler who was part of a half-time show. He wanted to go to a baton twirling camp but he didn't have the money. So Franco asks Joe Gordon to watch the kid twirl. Joe tells Franco, "The kid's not bad,' and Franco peels off $200 or $300 to give to the kid."
As a first-round draft choice in 1972, the rookie Franco Harris rode Pittsburgh city buses to practice. Didn't want to put on any show. Met interesting people, he said.After practice, he would hitchhike home. That was the year someone made up Franco's Italian Army (his black father and Italian mother met during World War II) and inived Frank Sinatra to be the army's commanding general. It was also the year Harris made the $"Immaculate Reception" to beat Oaklank in a playoff game, the first big game of his career.
Now, seven years and 100 records later, Franco Harris makes $250,000 a year, does not ride the bus anymore, is a slave to multiple sclerosis fund-raisers, and (what the Redskins ought to know) has not lost a step.
Harris is 29 years old. He has taken eight years worth of pounding from men who want to hurt his body. So when he has a bad game, as he did often early this season, the whisperers say Franco has lost a step. Lost speed Lost his game, really, for through he is a big guy at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, his thing is finesse.
"I like to think of myself running according to the situation," Harris said. "If I have to go inside with power, I do.If I have to go outside, I can finesse it."
A combination Earl Campbell and Tony Dorsett?
"Whichever style I need," Harris said.
Mostly, though, he saves himself for another day by avoiding giants breathing fire. By trying to dance around these monsters, Harris runs the risk of looking foolish when he is tackled for a loss. That happened a lot early this season when he gained only 189 yards in five games.
"That 'lost a step' is just something people say," Harris said. "I don't pay any attention to it. I feel better now than I did three years ago. I'm stronger. I'm a better runner now; yes, I believe that."
In the Steelers' last four games, Harris has run for 421 yards on 63 carries, a 6.7-yard average.
Cliff Harris, a Dallas Cowboy safety man, had the last shot at Franco on that 48-yard run Sunday. Harris is all guts, a reckless fellow who believes his body was invented to be sacrificed for the greater good of Tom Landry.
If Franco Harris is all finesse at the line of scrimmage, when he bursts through the line he is both finesse and power. Seeing Franco Harris at full steam, Cliff Harris decided this: There was nothing he could do about it.
"It's impossible to stop Franco then," Harris said. "You can't drag him down by yourself, and if you're not lucky you won't even touch him."
Harris lunged at Harris and hit air. Dallas was, of course, a big game.