MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) – Former NFL quarterback Jeff Hostetler was an 11-year-old kid from Hollsopple, Pa. when NFL great Franco Harris pulled off “The Immaculate Reception.” The play and the Pittsburgh Steelers had a big impact on Hostetler’s youth.
“After their games, we would go outside and play football and act like Terry Bradshaw or Franco Harris,” Hostetler said. “The Steelers were always a big part of our family and obviously Franco was a huge part of the Steelers.”
A play that many youth football players, like Hostetler, tried to recreate while playing backyard football.
“I’m sure we tried, I don’t think we had any luck,” Hostetler chuckled.
Days before the 50th Anniversary of “The Immaculate Reception,” Harris suddenly passed away at age 72.
“It’s a shock, with all of the things going on this upcoming weekend,” Hostetler said.
The anniversary, along with the Steelers retiring Harris’ jersey number, was meant to recognize and pay respect to one of the greatest players in franchise history.
While many people will remember Harris for one of the greatest plays of all time, Hostetler will remember him for being immaculate in another way.
“(Franco) was a guy that you would bring home and your family would say, ‘Wow, what an amazing young man.’ He held onto that and was that way his whole life,” Hostetler said. “People came across him and looked at him as a football player, but were so impressed by him as an individual and as a man and the character that he had.”
The two shared many similarities in their playing careers and lives.
Hostetler, before transferring to WVU, and Harris played football at Penn State. They were both Super Bowl Champions, Hostetler won twice, while Harris won four. Both also extensively gave back to the communities around them.
“He treated people with respect and always wanted to give back to the community and do different things to help those around and so that to me is really impressive,” Hostetler said. “He loved charity work and people and he treated everyone in such a gracious way, respectful way and what a great person to represent your city and football organization.”
The two crossed paths multiple times.
Their paths on the gridiron never crossed as Hostetler was drafted by the New York Giants in 1984 and Harris wrapped up his career for the Seattle Seahawks after the 1984 season. Even though they never faced off against one another, Hostetler said he could feel Harris’ presence whenever he would play at Three Rivers Stadium against the Steelers.
“Anytime you went into Steelers country, you felt them, and Franco was around an awful lot,” Hostetler said. “The people of Pittsburgh absolutely loved him and rightfully so. He was just a great face to put on the Steelers organization and the city of Pittsburgh.”
While some believe that the celebrations this upcoming weekend could be somber because of Harris’ passing, Hostetler doesn’t see it that way.
“I don’t think it will be. I don’t think Franco would want that. I think the fans in the stadium and obviously, there’s great respect and a loss, but there is also a great celebration of what Franco brought to this city and to the organization, and I think they’re going to celebrate that,” Hostetler said. “They are going to celebrate the man, the guy that had such a big impact on their community. I think there will be a big celebration and rightfully so.”
Harris was seen as a true Hall of Famer, on and off of the field.
“It’s really who he was,” Hostetler said.