Former Steelers running back Franco Harris remembers how special it was to win the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year back in 1977; an honor he knew was bestowed on some of the best in Pittsburgh sports throughout the years.
And while it meant a lot to him then, receiving the Dapper Dan Lifetime Achievement Award on Thursday night was an even greater honor for the Pro Football Hall of Famer.
"Heck, I never thought I would ever receive Sportsman of the Year," said Harris, who received the award from Joe Greene. "It's interesting when you look at your life and the different phases of your life. When you look at that you first have to look at the sports side of it. That's what brought me here. To be able to achieve the things I was able to achieve in this profession was beyond my wildest dreams."
Harris, who is best known to football fans for the Immaculate Reception, had an amazing career. He played 13 seasons, rushed for 12,120 yards and scored 100 touchdowns. He was selected to the Pro Bowl nine times, and rushed for 1,000 yards nine times. Harris was an integral part of the Steelers four Super Bowl teams, bringing football glory to the City of Pittsburgh.
"The lifetime achieve award deals with a lot of the things you have done off the field and after sports as well," said Harris. "To receive that it just makes you feel like are you living a full life and not just something that is totally focused on sports. Sports were what it was all about. But it's also how were you able to use that platform in sports to go ahead and do other things and to make a contribution off the field in a number of ways. To recognize me for that I am truly honored."
Harris, who is from Fort Dix, New Jersey, made Pittsburgh his home after his playing days ended. He truly is a Pittsburgh icon, with a statue of him making the Immaculate Reception one of the first things to greet travelers at Pittsburgh International Airport.
"I take pride in representing Pittsburgh," said Harris. "I can't measure how this city has changed my life, transformed my life. It has done so much for me. It's just a great honor. Pittsburgh has done so much more for me that I could never do enough to say thank you and show my gratitude."
Harris was honored at the 78th annual Dapper Dan Dinner and Sports Auction at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which also recognized Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle as Sportsman of the Year and Pittsburgh Three Rivers Marathon CEO Patrice Matamoros as Sportswoman of the Year. Harris joined an illustrious list of past Lifetime Achievement honorees that includes Arnold Palmer, Dan Rooney, Dick LeBeau, Bruno Sammartino, Joe Greene, and Mike Ditka.
"When I look at some of the people that received this honor before, it's like, wow, wow, and wow," said Harris. "That elevates this honor so much more just by the people I am following that won it.
"To receive such an honor as a Lifetime Achievement Award, it's one of the highest honors you can receive in our city. It really reflects the ways you have tried to make Pittsburgh a better place."