Pieces of the Past: Unassuming Franco

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Franco Harris' Hall of Fame bust in 2021. Photo by Chris Rossetti

In a 20-year time span, I worked for Art Arkelian. One of Art’s trademark promotions was to put together an incredible sports banquet in Erie every year. My jobs varied every year.

Sometimes I had to make a run to the airport to pick an athlete up. Sometimes I had to meet guests and take them somewhere. I was even asked to wake a few up after naps. One way or the other I met famous athletes in many far-from-normal situations, I got to see who was a gentleman, and who was a jerk!

Franco Harris was an unassuming quiet man. When he was in a room full of his peers he was the kind of guy that would be in the corner, or back of the room. Almost as if he was trying to be invisible. When he was included in a conversation he kept his remarks short and to the point. He said what he needed to and did his best NOT to call attention to himself. He was the kind of guy that made YOU the focus of the moment.

One year the committee had finished everything up early. About a half dozen of us were sitting in a hotel suite just talking. Tug McGraw of the Phillies asked if any of us played poker. Someone found a deck of cards and we gathered around a small glass table. Tug took the deck and began shuffling. I watched him do all those crazy moves. Cards up the arm etc. When you’re a relief pitcher you spend a lot of time in a bullpen trying to entertain yourself. In came Franco.

He surveyed the scene and said, “Hey! What are you guys doin’?” Tug responded, “We’re playing canasta, Franco!” Franco’s face dropped and he said, “I was hoping to play a little poker!” Chuckles erupted and Tug said, “You guys want to change the game? Sit down, Franco! I’ll deal!”

Needless to say, McGraw stacked the deck. Every one of us won a pot but Franco! He never caught on, and Tug cleaned him out. Harris didn’t really show any emotion other than to say, “I guess it’s just not my day!”

Every athlete has a moment. Bill Mazeroski’s was Oct. 13, 1960. Franco’s was Dec. 23, 1972. He is remembered for a football play that took a few seconds. Harris spent his entire life giving of himself and benefiting those around him. Rest in peace Franco! I’m sure Tug McGraw is shuffling the cards waiting for ya!