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THE ASCENT OF AN ENIGMA
Roy Blount Jr.
August 23, 1982
The Steelers' Franco Harris is a man of few words but a lot of yardage, and though some derogate his style, he's climbing to a record
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August 23, 1982

The Ascent Of An Enigma

The Steelers' Franco Harris is a man of few words but a lot of yardage, and though some derogate his style, he's climbing to a record

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"But it was going around that I might have been a problem. I remember wanting to send the Steelers a telegram not to draft me, because I didn't want to go where the fans threw snowballs at the players. But the guy who was my agent then told me not to send the telegram because I probably had a bad rap now, and it would just make it worse. I got a call that I'd been drafted by the Steelers, and I was in shock."

However, he was ready for the pros. For one thing, he was tired of trying to live on $15 a month laundry money. "I never did understand that," Harris says. "How is somebody from a poor family supposed to get by? You're not supposed to scalp tickets. You're not supposed to get money from anybody else. You couldn't have a job. Somebody who doesn't have any rights is the college football player. Fortunately, I was able to scalp a few tickets."

And he'd had the maturing experience of working for Walter Conti, who has since become president of the Penn State board of trustees. Conti owns a restaurant in Doylestown, Pa., and he was prevailed upon to take Harris on as a summer worker because he was majoring in hotel and restaurant management.

"Around his junior year," says Conti, "Franco had become lax about some things. He was supposed to show up for an interview at six. He showed up at 11. He said he'd be finished with school on the 17th of June. So I told him to call me on the first of June and I'd arrange for a place for him to live. On the 16th of June at 1 a.m., after I'd given up on him, he called. So I found him a nice place to live. He didn't like it. I found him another place. The first three days of work, he was supposed to be here at eight in the morning. He'd show up at 5 p.m. I told him, 'Either you come or you're done.' And the guy responded.

"Now I say Franco's my third son. He asked me questions that had more depth to them than I'm asked by professionals.

"And he had a desire for perfection. I could see that with my liver. Every calf's liver has to be peeled, or when you cook it it curls up. Peeling liver is not one of the better jobs that people like to do. Franco Harris cleaned my liver better than anybody else has."

Harris also played in the Senior Bowl and in the College All-Star game, "and I realized I was a better athlete than those other guys. Why had they accomplished more in college? I went to some of the weightlifters at Penn State and they taught me how to lift. I developed a total commitment to getting in shape. It made all the difference in the world. I told myself, when the other guys are tired, that's when you do it. I felt stronger, smarter, my feel for the game was sharper."

And the Steelers thought he was lazy. "I'm still trying to figure that out," Harris says. "After the first exhibition game the coaches came up saying 'Good game,' like they didn't expect it from me. It was hard to believe they were disappointed in me the first week of practice. Maybe it was because I didn't allow people to beat on me."

Ah. The crux of Franco's peculiarity and strength. "I always feel that the easiest thing you can do," he says, "is run into somebody."

Call it common sense or call it elitist, such unabashed thinking is surprisingly rare in football. When asked how he responds when people accuse Harris of not running hard enough, Steeler Middle Linebacker Jack Lambert, headknocker nonpareil, doesn't say, "I wrench their torsos off." He says, "That's Franco's problem."

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