In 1972, two lifelong Steelers fans realized that it would “take an army” to energize the team’s fan base after an 8-year-long losing streak. Rallying around rookie running back Franco Harris, business partners Al Vento and Tony Stagno started one of football’s most famous fan clubs: Franco’s Italian Army. Each week, their troops – equipped with homemade food, red wine, Italian flags, and vintage army helmets – marched into Three Rivers Stadium to cheer on Harris and celebrate their shared Italian heritage.
The season proved to be a turning point for the Steelers, who entered the playoffs for the first time since 1947. There, in the final seconds of a game against the Raiders, the Italian Army witnessed Harris’ career-defining play: an unintentional, game-winning catch that became known as the Immaculate Reception. By then, the Army had recruited many new members, including Frank Sinatra, who was formally inducted during a team practice in Palm Springs, CA.
Harris retired in 1985 with 4 Super Bowls under his belt and the third-highest career rushing yards in pro football history. He was a pillar of the Pittsburgh community throughout his life, and frequently stopped by Al Vento’s restaurant, Vento’s Pizza, to keep in touch with the Italian Army’s 4-star general. He passed away in December 2022, days before his jersey – No. 32 – was retired on the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception. Help us celebrate Franco’s legendary career, and the legacy of Franco’s Italian Army, with this month’s graphic tee.
This came out at just the right time!
MY FAVORITE PLAYER EVER SINCE IWAS A LITTLE KID BACK IN THE 70’S. SUCH A GREAT HUMAN BEING!!!!
Sign me up!