Steelers unveil throwback jerseys for 2018; Franco Harris approves
Franco Harris wore his 1978 Steelers jersey with pride — then and now — but he had only one complaint Wednesday when he tried it on at Heinz Field.
“It’s a little bit tighter than it should be,” he said. “But it feels good.”
Harris, 68, joined teammate John Banaszak, Steelers president Art Rooney II and current wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in unveiling the throwback jerseys the team will wear this season, the 40th anniversary of the Steelers’ 35-31 victory against the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII. Smith-Schuster served as the jersey model, and Rooney joked it was the start of his modeling career.
The Steelers will wear the alternate jerseys in their game Oct. 28 against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field. It will be the first of two 40-year anniversary celebrations; the Steelers won Super Bowl XIV after the 1979 season.
“I didn’t know these jerseys looked so good,” Harris said. “Until I put it on I didn’t. But when I put it on I said, ‘Man, I missed you.’ ”
As an alternate jersey, they will replace the bumblebee throwbacks that featured black and gold stripes and were inspired by the uniforms worn by the 1934 Pittsburgh Pirates football team. The Steelers wore those in at least one game from 2012-16.
“As popular as the bumblebee uniforms are, it’s time to make a change,” Rooney said. “We felt it was time to throw back to the ’70s and the great teams we had.”
The 1978 jersey is similar to the current one, only with block numbers and letters.
The uniforms brought back memories for Banaszak, who joined the Steelers as an undrafted free agent from Eastern Michigan in 1975.
“People told me I was crazy for signing with the Steelers,” said Banaszak, a defensive lineman who had offers from four other teams. “They had the Steel Curtain. They had just won the Super Bowl.
“But I wanted to play on a championship team. The closest I ever got was losing 7-6 in the city championship game in Cleveland in high school. I said, ‘If I make the team, the chances of going back to the Super Bowl were pretty good.’ ”
And he did, winning three Super Bowls rings, one of only two Steelers (kicker Roy Gerela is the other) to play in three of the four in the ’70s.
Banaszak ended up making Pittsburgh his home and built a successful coaching career after his playing days. He was the coach at Washington & Jefferson (1999-2002) and Robert Morris (2013-17) for a total of eight seasons. He also served as an assistant to former Robert Morris coach Joe Walton for 11 seasons.
Banaszak and Harris marvel at the adoration still shown to the ’70s Steelers, nearly a half-century later.
“It’s good to be a former Steeler in Pittsburgh,” Banaszak said.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.