JANUARY 12, 1976
When Franco Harris was a Pittsburgh Steelers rookie in 1972, he dutifully followed a team tradition. As the team's first-round draft pick, he was required to bring a couple of dozen doughnuts to practice once a week for his veteran teammates. He carried the pastries on a city bus because he didn't yet own a car. At the time the soft-spoken Harris thought little about this mundane task, but he now laughs at the memory. Since 1990 the Super Bowl IX MVP has been running Super Bakery, a Pittsburgh company that manufactures and distributes in all 50 states what it calls "nutritional doughnuts." ("It's an oxymoron," says Harris. "Definitely.") Super Bakery's doughnuts and muffins, which are low in fat and enriched with vitamins and minerals, are sold to school systems and hospitals.
In addition to traveling the country hawking his pastries, Harris, who carried the pigskin in nine Pro Bowls, co-owns Parks Sausages, a Baltimore-based manufacturer. Harris and his partners, who include his former Penn State backfield mate Lydell Mitchell, bought the nearly bankrupt operation in '96 and have turned it around by restructuring its debt and resurrecting its signature advertising slogan, "More Parks sausages, Mom. Please!"
Like Parks, the woeful Steelers, who had suffered through eight straight losing seasons before 1972, needed serious help from Harris. He provided it by rushing for more than 100 yards seven times in his rookie year as Pittsburgh improved to 11-3 and made the playoffs for the first time. Harris, the son of a black army officer and his Italian war bride, inspired a fan club called Franco's Italian Army, and he rewarded his loyal followers that year by making the infamous Immaculate Reception to give the Steelers a 13-7 playoff win over the Oakland Raiders. He went on to rush for a Super Bowl-record 354 yards in Pittsburgh's four championship-game victories in the 1970s. When he retired in '84, he held or shared 24 NFL records, and his 12,120 yards rushing trailed the career total of only Jim Brown.
After leaving football, Harris immediately began to put his degree in hotel administration and food service to use by working as a distributor of frozen fruit bars and fresh-squeezed orange juice. He still lives in the Steel City with his 22-year-old son, Dok, a recent Princeton graduate, and Dok's mother, Dana Dokmanovich. Now Harris is taking Super Bakery products into retail outlets, and he has targeted another promising market. "We're going to start talking to police departments," he says, laughing. "They're on our radar screen. They need some healthy doughnuts."