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Sports apparel: Franco Harris introduces odor-free socks

NFL Hall of Famer Franco Harris is best known for catching an improbable pass that let the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Oakland Raiders in an AFC divisional playoff game in 1972. The catch was nicknamed "The Immaculate Reception."

A longtime entrepreneur, Harris now runs an athletic apparel company called Silversport, which promises to keep your socks, shirts and towels odor-free. You only have to wash the clothing when it's dirty, not because it smells. He's pitching the products as a great way to help conserve water during a drought.

But how is this possible? Is this some sort of Immaculate Deception? Immaculate Perspiration? Franco Harris said the secret is silver.

"Silver just has a long and interesting history," he told CNBC. Tiny silver components in the clothing bind to odor-causing bacteria and destroy it.

"I used to wash my towel every time I got off my treadmill," he said. "Now I leave that towel on the treadmill for long periods of time, I don't even think about, 'Oh, maybe I'll wash that towel.'"

Franco Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Baltimore Colts, in November 1983.
Focus on Sport | Getty Images
Franco Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Baltimore Colts, in November 1983.

Harris has been selling the products online to consumers, trainers and gyms. He's hoping to expand.

"I've had people ask me, 'why not for kids?'" he said. Children's products may be next (especially socks for boys ...).

We decided to put a pair of Silversport socks through their paces. This reporter wore them nearly every day for a week. During that time, I went for a two-hour hike, spent 30 minutes on a treadmill, walked the dogs and covered news events—including a full day in the hot sun at a dam construction site. At the end of the week, I removed the socks ... and smelled them.

Nothing. They were dirty, but they smelled like nothing.

Then I held them out to Franco Harris. "Are you ready?" I asked. "I'm ready," he replied, bracing himself.

After one sniff, Harris said, "You did all that, and no smell." Then he smelled them again.

"During the '70s, we knew we definitely had to work after football, we didn't make the type of salaries that they make (now), we weren't even close. We always knew that we had to work, interact with people, build networks ... but I've always loved business, I just loved it." -Franco Harris, NFL Hall of Famer, former Pittsburgh Steeler

Harris said he tested the Silversport products himself long before producing them for the market. He wanted to make sure if he started an athletic apparel company, it would stand out.

"We can't compete just doing another sports line," he said. "OK, what are we doing it for? We're doing it to have odor-free workouts."

The desire to do something different with a traditional product is something Harris carried with him after football.

"During the '70s, we knew we definitely had to work after football, we didn't make the type of salaries that they make (now), we weren't even close," he said. "We always knew that we had to work, interact with people, build networks ... but I've always loved business, I just loved it." Now the former fullback leads a team of business partners. "I always wanted to be a quarterback."

Other business ventures have included Super Bakery in Pittsburgh, where Harris still lives. The bakery is now 25 years old. "We make a doughnut called the 'Super Donut.' There are lots of doughnuts, but we're the doughnut that has vitamins and minerals and protein—we're the nutritional doughnut."

Egg prices have shot up because of this year's bird flu epidemic, affecting the cost of baked goods. Harris said his bakery has developed some egg-free recipes.

Discussing commodity prices with a former Super Bowl MVP as we hold my dirty socks makes me love this job.

Not every endeavor Harris tackled has been a winner. Forbes reports he failed to save a sausage company, and he gave up on licensing players' names to apparel in the '80s when he feared the players' union would come after him.

However, he hopes to succeed with a smell-free sportswear line because, frankly, it's something Franco Harris knows a lot about. When I asked him how smelly it gets in an NFL locker room, he replied with a laugh, "The grossest time is always high school."

For him personally, though, it started earlier. "I first started playing football in eighth grade, and I wouldn't take my clothes home because my mom didn't want me to play football, and it smelled so bad that I finally had to take my clothes home," he laughed. "That odor got so bad that I did it despite the fear of my mom."

Which brings me back to that need for odor-free socks for boys ...