This Is Us usually doesn't incorporate new characters without a grander meaning hidden within their appearance. That sweet elderly couple in Season 2 turned out to be the ones who gave Jack the deadly Crock-Pot, which has definitely messed with viewers' trust of anyone who is not a Pearson. Season 3 kicked off with a focus on real-life Steelers player Franco Harris, but his story initially just seemed to serve as another football milestone of Jack and Rebecca's relationship. Why was Franco Harris on This Is Us? According to fans' guesses, his involvement could suggest much more than we may think.
Although an actor played Harris in scenes detailing his morning before a big football game, the show used actual footage of the reason why his name is the stuff of legends in Steelers and general football canon. In a December 1972 playoff game between the Steelers and the Oakland Raiders, Harris caught the ball after it bounced off another player's helmet. He scored the game-winning touchdown in a move that became known as the Immaculate Reception. In the world of This Is Us, the game was on the same night as Jack and Rebecca's spontaneous first date, with men asking Jack throughout the outing if he caught the big game. Clearly not a football fan yet, Rebecca was completely out of the loop, while Jack watched the game highlights later that night with a smile on his face.
Fans not up to date with their football history initially guessed that Harris was Deja's father or, before the reveal of his last name, that he was even a young Miguel. While a mind-blowing, intimate connection between the football player and the Pearsons wasn't shared, there could be a deeper meaning to the inclusion of his story.
Football has always played a key role in the Pearsons' lives, but Jack and Rebecca meeting on the same day as this game emphasizes the cyclical importance the sport has for them. They conceived their triplets on Super Bowl Sunday, and Jack died in the aftermath of another Super Bowl 18 years later. Particularly metaphorical This Is Us fans shared beautiful theories about why the show decided to incorporate such a specific football theme into the season premiere. One fan compared the Steelers game's hopelessness to Jack's state of mind before he met Rebecca, while another thought the Immaculate Reception applied to the twist of another man appearing at Rebecca's door after her date with Jack.
While there are fans wondering if Harris is somehow related to Beth and Zoe, connecting him to the Pearsons' overall journey seems far more believable. As Good Housekeeping points out, voiceover commentary from the sports game says, "A single moment has changed destiny forever" as it plays over the scene of Toby flushing away his antidepressants. From what I can tell about the actual broadcast footage of this play, this line is from the This Is Us script rather than real life, implying that Toby's decision crucially impacted his future self who was alone in bed in a brief flashforward. On what other show could you connect 1970s football to a man struggling with depression in 2018 so seamlessly?
We probably shouldn't expect Franco Harris to be a long-lost Pearson uncle, but his special moment in history has definitely helped us analyze the events of this premiere in a new way. Season 3 of This Is Us continues on Tuesday, Oct. 2, at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.