Players, Coaches Celebrate Big 33

HERSHEY, Pa. — Sixty-eight of the best football players from Pennsylvania and Ohio met up with legendary coaches — and 49 years of history — as the Big 33 Honors Banquet wrapped up a week of preparations for the annual classic.

The banquet allowed players, cheerleaders, host families and buddies some social time following a long week of practice, media attention, clinics, and visits to local hospitals and care centers. The event pushed the limits of the oversized Great American Ballroom at Hershey Lodge and Convention Center as hundreds gathered to pay tribute to the players, and to catch a few inspirational words from the honored guests.

Former Nittany Lion national championship quarterback Todd Blackledge shared the dais with Lou Tilley as masters of ceremonies for the three hour program which followed a full course meal for all in attendance. Blackledge welcomed everyone to the event and reflected on his appearance in the Big 33 game many years earlier.

The well paced program featured several presentations, and th introductions of the Big 33 cheerleaders and the Ohio and Pennsylvania teams. A highlight was the induction of ten new members into the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame, with the awards presented by Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik.

Between introductions, the attendees were given the opportunity to listen to brief insprirational speeches from several coaching legends in attendance, including former Penn State linebacker coach and current head coach at Temple University Al Golden, Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis, Pittsburgh head coach Dave Wannstadt, and Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, filling in for Joe Paterno who is suffering from a minor knee injury. All four coaches entertained the crowd with inspirational stories and anecdotes, but the biggest laugh of the night came when Tom Bradley spoke about the phone call he made to break a date for a black tie event in Pittsburgh when he received word that he would be substituting for Paterno. "There are women named Hope, Faith and Charity," quipped Bradley, "But I've never yet met one named Understanding."

Another highlight of the evening for the many Penn State faithful in attendance was the renaming of the ACE award presented annually for perserverence in overcoming adversity in honor of Adam Taliaferro. The award, presented by the Big 33 Foundation will now be known as the Adam Taliaferro ACE award.

The evening came to a close with a brief speech by this year's honorary chairman Bill Fralic. Fralic, a Big 33 alumni, went on to be named All-American three times as an offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Panthers. Fralic played most of his pro career with the Atlanta Falcons, where he received NFL rookie of the year honors, and then offensive lineman of the year honors in his second year. Fralic was named to four consecutive Pro Bowls during his professional career.

With the preliminaries finished, the 2006 Big 33 Classic is set for kickoff at 7:00 PM on Saturday, June 17 at Hersheypark Stadium. FOS will be there, and we will bring you the best post-game coverage along with our exclusive grades on the future Nittany Lions, audio interviews and more on Saturday night and Sunday.

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