Before college football became all about Power Five Conferences, football on the East Coast was some of the most competitive and led by several Hall of Fame coaches.
While it may seem complicated to believe today, there was a time when Syracuse versus Penn State was for bragging rights in the Eastern part of the country.
My college coach, Ben Schwartzwalder, battled Nittany Lion coaches Rip Engle and Joe Paterno during his long coaching career in some epic battles.
Before arriving on the Syracuse campus, Franco Harris was on the campus of Penn State, making plays for Paterno and the Nittany Lions. Because of the old NCAA rules when first-year students didn't play, I'd seen Harris make plays and would compete against his Nittany Lions squad my sophomore year, which was his senior year. This was the start of a longtime rivalry between our teams.
Harris would become a first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1972 NFL Draft, and a few years later, Paul Brown and the Cincinnati Bengals drafted me in the third round of the 1974 NFL Draft.
For my ten seasons with the Bengals, we played the Steelers 20 times, with the Bengals earning eight wins against a Steelers squad that would win four Super Bowls, with many Steelers feeling Franco was the glue to their success.
After the 1983 season, the Steelers felt Franco had seen his better days and allowed him to sign with the Seattle Seahawks, where he ended his career in 1984.
I left the Bengals after the 1983 season, where I would play two years in the USFL for the New Jersey Generals before ending my playing career. Shortly after, started a career in broadcasting as a color analyst with the Bengals in 1986.
While Franco Harris was a longtime rival, he was also a great man off the field who touched many by giving his time and energy for the betterment of all.
Harris was more than just part of one of the greatest plays in NFL history, the "Immaculate Reception," and I wanted to take time on In The Trenches with Dave Lapham, presented by First Star Logistics, to pay tribute to one of football's all-time greats, Franco Harris.