PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers Monday stopped trying to re-sign holdout Franco Harris and waived the veteran running back who is within 363 yards of becoming the all-time NFL leading rusher.
The move means any of the other 27 NFL teams can claim the burly 34-year-old Harris, who was expected to surpass the all-time rushing mark of 12,312 yards set by the legendary Jim Brown this season.
Harris was a major force on four Super Bowl championship teams in Pittsburgh.
As a vested, 13-year veteran, Harris also has the option of refusing to report to the claiming team in order to become a free agent.
Steelers President Dan Rooney announced the decision to place Harris on waivers by reading a tersely worded, six-paragraph statement in a conference room at the team's Three Rivers Stadium headquarters.
Looking upset, Rooney declined to answer any questions dealing with Harris, whose name had become synonymous with Pittsburgh and the Steelers during their transition from perennial losers to four-time Super Bowl champions in the 1970s.
'Football is a team game,' Rooney said in the statement. 'Franco has been a great player and always put the team before himself. By not reporting to camp, he placed us in a position where we had no alternatives left. It would not be fair to the team, the players and coaches to let this situation continue.
'I am not happy with it,' Rooney concluded, 'but I have to think of the coming football season and this team.'
Neither Harris nor his attorney, Bart Beier, of Pittsburgh, could be reached for comment.
It was reported earlier Monday that Beier and the Steelers would meet during the day, but a team spokesman said no such meetings had taken place.
'We did everything possible to sign Franco,' Rooney said. 'We initiated the negotiations in March and negotiated in good faith throughout the talks. We wanted to do this right, and we wanted him to get the (Brown's) record.
'We believed we were meeting their requests. In fact, we thought we had reached agreement last Sunday (Aug. 12) after a meeting with Franco and Bart Beier and several telephone discussions that evening. We expected Franco to report to training camp last Monday.'
Harris, in the option year of his contract, never reported to the Steelers' training camp at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., which opened July 20.
Within minutes of Rooney's announcement, the city of Pittsburgh was buzzing about the pros and cons of the decision.
Harris captured the hearts of Pittsburghers back in 1972, when, as the Steeler' top draft choice out of Penn State, he rushed for 1,055 yards to lead the team into the post-season playoffs for the first time in 10 years.
In the team's first-round playoff with the Oakland Raiders, Harris came out of a tangle of players to catch a 60-yard, deflected pass by Terry Bradshaw to score the game-winning touchdown with five seconds left in the game. The play immediately became known as the 'Immaculate Reception,' and the name has stuck throughout the years.
Though the Steelers lost the 1972 AFC championship game to the Miami Dolphins, Harris was named AFC rookie of the year and was the only first-year player named to the Pro Bowl team that year.
He was named to every Pro Bowl for the next eight years, while the Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl championships in 1974, 1975, 1975 and 1979.
In 1982, Harris was named to the All-Time Steelers team selected by fans to commemorate the Steelers' 50th anniversary.
Harris is in reach of several other NFL records. He stands fourth with 100 career touchdowns to Brown with 126, and is third for most 100-yard rushing games with 47. Brown had 58, and still-active Walter Payton has 47.