The PNC Big 33 organization held a press conference this afternoon at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center so that this year's honorary chairman, Matt Millen, a former player in the contest, could address the media prior to the game tomorrow night. Jim Tressel and Joe Paterno were also on hand to speak about the prestigious all-star game.
"It's always a pleasure every time I have a chance to get back and get involved or be around something, especially the Big 33," said the Detroit Lion executive. "I think what it stands for has always been good and continues to grow and get better. And then for me, it's of special interest just to watch the players, the young guys, to see what they're going through and what we went through, and then watch them develop over the course of time. That to me is a lot of fun.
"Some of them keep on going and some of them step to the side. Success is not measured by those who keep going, it's measured by what they do with their lives."
Matt Millen speaks at the PNC Big 33 press conference
Millen said the game is a chance for some of the players to assess where they're really at during this particular time in their young career.
"For a lot of the players, they've been sitting in their own little fishbowl and thinking they're pretty good, and now they have a chance to see where they stack up against other good players," he said. "Sometimes it's an eye-opener for guys. Sometimes they realize they're not what they thought they were and some of them go, ‘Hey, I'm a little better than what I thought, I was so let's see what the next level brings.' So if they can sit there and can learn from it, then I think it's a great experience. I don't think it's done any better in the United States than it is right here."
As Millen sees it, the entire event is on a much larger scale now then it was when he played in it. The game at that time was played in nearby Gettysburg and the players practiced all week there.
"It's gotten bigger with what they're doing with the scholarships. Those programs have gotten bigger and I think the community is growing with it as well," he said. "I think Pennsylvania has done a fantastic job with this as well as Ohio. It's just been what it should be.
"It's interesting for me because, having been fortunate enough to play in Super Bowls and having been around Super Bowls for a long time, without fail, every year there's another Big 33 guy in there. So it's made its mark on a lot of players on a lot of levels."
When it was brought to Millen's attention that the last four Chairmen of the Big 33 were all quarterbacks the likes of Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Jim Kelly and Jeff Hostetler, he responded: "Marino I recruited; of course he went to Pitt. Kelly I recruited and he went down to Miami. ‘Hoss' was there for a little bit and we chased him off, and he went down to West Virginia. And had I had a chance to recruit Joe; well he would have probably ended up at Notre Dame anyway. So the interesting thing about all four of those guys is that three of them would have come to Penn State and been linebackers. So we weren't too far. It's kind of close."
And then Millen was asked if he was happy about drafting Kevin Jones who starred in this game just three years ago.
"Yes I am. In fact I was just talking to his agent not too long ago, so right now is not a good time to talk to me about that whole thing," he said with a chuckle. "But Kevin hopefully will bring to us what we've lacked, and I'm excited about what we have at the running back position right now. Kevin is a big kid; he's 230 pounds and he's a good worker in the weight room, and he picks things up very well. So I'm looking forward to what he can do for us."
Next up on the dais was Tressel, and he concurred with some of the things Millen had to say about the game and the organization.
OSU head coach Jim Tressel
"This game is a little bit different than the typical all-star games that you see out there with what they've done with the scholarships," he said. "And now they're taking it to the next level with the nursing scholarship opportunities which is an incredible thing."
Tressel, who has 12 of his players on both rosters playing in the game, has a unique Big 33 football in his office at Ohio State.
"It's got all the guys that I've ever coached that played in this game," he said. "So when these guys get to campus here on August 10, I'll add their names to the ball. There have been some extraordinary guys play in this game, both Ohio kids and Pennsylvania kids, and what they've learned here and the experience they've had, I just think it's so valuable."
With both Ohio State and Penn State being members of the Big Ten, the Big 33 enhances the rivalry according to Tressel.
"I think people in the football world look at Ohio and Pennsylvania and say ‘that's a natural rivalry,' " he said. "I don't care if it's the Browns and the Steelers or it's Ohio State and Penn State. Penn State is one of the two teams that never rotates off our schedule, and so we will always play Penn State. I think it's because people recognize that it ought to be done; that's two of the greatest states that play the game. So I think it's very natural that the Big 33 game has been what it is.
"And I think you can't ever lose sight of what this community has done for this game. Someone could say, ‘Well, gosh it ought to rotate back and forth between Ohio and Pennsylvania.' Well, I don't know that it should because what this community does and what this whole game is all about. I have to tip my cap to what this community does, and again I think they recognize that Pennsylvania and Ohio is a natural. I think that's why it works."
Paterno and Tressel exchanged pleasantries when the Penn State coach walked up to the table before he fielded questions from the small media crowd in attendance.
Penn State head coach Joe Paterno
He was initially asked what his thoughts were on having his future players participating in this game with the risk of sustaining an injury.
"I think it's up to the kid," Paterno said. "I think there are certain experiences you have in your life and you hate to deprive a kid of any of them. Jim has had some experience with kids that graduate in January and I've had some experiences, and I have mixed feelings even about that. You ought to play out your high school career and enjoy life as it comes to you, so if a kid wants to play in an all-star game and he's not banged up or he goes into the game with a little questionable physical condition, then let him go and have a little fun. I think it's a great experience for them. Particularly a game of this magnitude."
As far as the rivalry aspect goes with the between the two state universities in relationship to the outcome of the game, Paterno doesn't necessarily see any direct connection or correlation there. He chooses to look at it more as it just being a hard fought contest against a best friend.
"I think that the kids are here, for a certain time in their lives, are here to have a little fun and play a good football game and go from there," he said. "I think it's great that we have a rivalry with Ohio State, and I certainly don't want to downgrade that part of it. It's two adjacent states that I think both have great athletic programs and great tradition and that's fun. And I think those kids are involved in something that's becoming a tradition in and of itself, so I think they'll enjoy that part of it. And when it comes time to play in Ohio Stadium or in Beaver Stadium, that's another experience."
As it stands now, as many as 19 kids on both of the Big 33 rosters have a chance to experience that.
Walt Harris was slated to address the group as well but he was running late in arriving to the event.
Coach Paterno and Coach Tressel
Coach Paterno and Matt Millen