Franco Harris: from hesitant fan to Pittsburgh Passion's eager co-owner


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Franco Harris wasn't on the fence after he first heard about the Pittsburgh Passion -- he was looking through it.

Harris, the former star Steelers running back, met a Passion player several years ago in a Giant Eagle and was invited to a game. At first, he was unsure about going.

"I said 'Oh, you know, if I get a chance,' " he said. "And I thought about it and said I would go check it out, but I wanted to be careful in checking it out."

Instead of buying a ticket and going through the gates, Harris decided on a sneaky way of checking out the women's football action -- or at least the sneakiest way possible for a former Super Bowl MVP.

He went around to the back of the stadium and watched through a fence.

"I saw all these balls flying through the air and thought 'man, this looks pretty good.' I was sitting there and the level of play was surprising," he said.

For the next game, Harris watched the action from the sidelines. From there, his relationship with the Passion flourished, and he eventually bought part of the team in 2011.

Harris owns the team along with former Passion player Teresa Conn.

Harris is all-in on the Passion, and the once skeptical Pittsburgh legend is now helping them to create history of their own.

The Passion -- whose highlights include being the first women's football team to broadcast games on a major television network, the first women's football team featured in Sports Illustrated and the first women's football team featured on ESPN -- will become the first team to play host to the Women's Football Alliance national championship at an NFL field.

Harris said Art Rooney II and Dan Rooney, owners of the Steelers, were influential in helping the Passion secure the championship at Heinz Field.

"The Rooneys and their organization have really been great in supporting women's football. It makes you feel good that someone at their level realizes this is a great women's football league," Harris said.

Four teams will be playing today in the semifinals to determine who plays in the championship game Aug. 4. The goal of Harris and the Passion, who were eliminated by the DC Divas earlier in the postseason, is to provide an entertaining day for the visitors.

To reach that goal, they've decided to sandwich football between more football.

"We thought we'd make it a great day about football," Harris said. "Here in Western Pennsylvania, we love our football."

At 10 a.m., the WFA All-Star game will be played at J.C. Stone Field. Five Passion players are on the first team and two players are on the second team.

After a tailgate challenge, the championship game will start at 4 p.m. At 7 p.m., the Passion will present a live screening of the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement on Heinz Field's 96-foot jumbotron.

"You get to see some great football on the field, and then we have a chance to celebrate greatness of the players that played in Pittsburgh," Harris said.

Four players elected into the Hall of Fame -- Jack Butler, Dermontti Dawson, Curtis Martin and Chris Doleman -- have ties to the area.

"This is a big night for Pittsburgh with the Hall of Fame. Don't watch it at home. Come to the stadium and we can all watch it together. We have four great players being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Let's all celebrate together," he said.

"That was really the essence of adding that. How many venues do you get to really honor this occasion in a stadium where Pitt and the Steelers play now? I would love to share that with other people who really love what's happening."

For those still unsure about going to a women's football game, Harris said they only need to look to him to see how one game can make a world of difference.

"All I can say is that the first game I went to, I was skeptical. I became a fan," Harris said. "I just want to tell people to come out and see some great football."

And not through a fence, either.

sportsother

Brandon Boyd: bboyd@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1724 and Twitter @brandonmboyd. First Published July 21, 2012 4:00 AM


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