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Tabeek: Football lost a giant in Bill Fralic

Bill Fralic, a star guard for the Atlanta Falcons and one of the best linemen to ever come out of college, died on Thursday.

But Fralic, who was only 56 when he lost his battle to cancer, was so much more than that.

If you’re not quite old enough to remember Fralic as a player but love the Falcons or the game of football, do yourself a favor and search his name on Twitter and Google today.

You’ll see a lot of words used to describe Fralic in headlines.

Legendary.
Star.
Great.

Falcons chairman and owner Arthur M. Blank referred to Fralic as a “cornerstone” of the franchise during his eight seasons here in Atlanta. Blank also said Fralic was “beloved.”

Hall of Fame quarterback and former teammate Brett Favre called Fralic “the toughest dude you could ever know.” That he was, starting 131 of the 132 games he played during his nine-year NFL career.

Former Steelers coach and CBS NFL analyst Bill Cowher called Fralic “a great role model and even better person.” Fralic, who gave back in a lot of ways, once paid for the hotel rooms for an entire high school football team and its coaches during a trip to the state title game.

Former Falcons defensive end Chuck Smith called Fralic, his former teammate, a “leader and mentor.” Fralic was the Falcons’ second-overall pick in the 1985 NFL Draft and proved he was more than worthy of the selection – being named to the Pro Bowl four times and All-Pro twice.

Former scout Gil Brandt, a legend in his own right, called Fralic “one of the top 20 guards in NFL history.” Not many know the game and its history quite like Mr. Brandt. Strong words.

Bills star running back Lesean McCoy, called his fellow Pitt alum a “legend” and tweeted “Mr. Pancake rest well.” Yes, that’s right: Fralic was the inspiration behind the term “pancake block” because he put so many defenders on their backs during his career at Pitt.

To me, Fralic was simply a giant. I grew up in Upstate New York – Syracuse Orange country – and watched a lot of Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia football, too. Fralic was the first offensive lineman I ever made it a point to watch during games sometimes.

He was that good.

Chew on this for a minute: Fralic played guard and received first-place Heisman votes.

First-place votes.

In 1983, Fralic received six first-place votes and finished eighth in the Heisman voting. In 1984, Fralic finished sixth in the voting and received another first-place vote.

That’s crazy when you consider that Pitt finished 3-7-1 that year. That’s how good Fralic was.

There was no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram back then. Heck, there was no Internet. But every college football fan knew who Fralic was and couldn’t wait to see him “pancake” someone.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn took a minute to remember Fralic on Friday.

"I can clearly remember when I was a kid watching him at Pitt with my dad saying, 'Watch this guy play offensive line,'" Quinn said. "I think it was a night game and we were together watching a TV game of that one, and the physicality and finish that he played with. That's one of my memories about him even before he became an NFL player."

Some will also remember Fralic for what he did to clean up the game, too. Fralic was the initial whistle-blower in the battle against steroids and other illegal substances and helped push through a new NFL policy on random steroid testing throughout a 12-month calendar year.

There’s an old saying about offensive lineman – that you never hear their names (or numbers) called unless they’re doing something wrong.

Well, Fralic was the exception to that. Fralic’s name was always heard and he was often talked about, because he was so damn good. He changed the way I watched football games.

Fralic, who wore No. 79 with the Falcons, isn't currently in the team's Ring of Honor, but I certainly think he'd be a worthy addition.

He was a giant, and so much more.

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