Introducing the "all-time" Fabulous 22 football all-star team
Committee selects Bill Fralic, LaVar Arrington, Aaron Donald, Darrelle Revis and Terrelle Pryor the five best in 40 years.
December 4, 2020
Two Pro Football Hall of Famers and three more likely to make it someday.
Six first-round picks in the NFL draft.
Four Super Bowl winners and four others who played in a Super Bowl.
Two members of the College Football Hall of Fame, including a player who almost won the Heisman Trophy.
Numerous college All-Americans and the sixth-leading rusher in NFL history.
How’s that for the makeup of a most fabulous all-star team? Well, meet the Post-Gazette “all-time” Fabulous 22.
The brainchild of former Post-Gazette high school editor Steve Hecht, the first Fabulous 22 was published on Thanksgiving Day in 1980. Over the next 40 years, the Fab 22 became part of the fabric that is Western Pennsylvania high school football. Kids grew up, hoping to win WPIAL and state titles – and also make the Fab 22.
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first Fab 22, the Post-Gazette decided to pick an all-time Fab 22. A “blue-ribbon” committee of 17 current coaches in the district, four former coaches and six current and former member P-G scholastic sports staff members voted for the team. Each committee member selected 22 players, in order of preference. First-place votes received 22 points, second-place 21, etc.
The criteria for the all-time team was decided by each committee member. The whole body of work for a player was considered, but the all-time team also has a few players who were simply tremendous on the high school level.
It should be pointed out that only players on the Fab 22s since 1980 were eligible for the all-time team. Legendary players such as Dan Marino, Tony Dorsett, Joe Montana and Mike Ditka played before there was a Fab 22.
When you sit down and examine the list of 22 players on this team, it really is remarkable the talent that Western Pennsylvania has produced, just in the last 40 years. Here is an example: Two members of the all-time team (Allderdice’s Curtis Martin and Aliquippa’s Ty Law) are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But they didn’t make the top five vote-getters on the Fab 22. Martin finished sixth and Law seventh.
“Just knowing the background of Western Pennsylvania and the players on this all-time team, the hardware that they’ve all won, just making this list is crazy and pretty dope,” said former Woodland Hills star Steve Breaston, a member of the all-time team.
So, drumroll please. Here are the top five players on the all-time Fabulous 22:
Penn Hills | OL-DL | 1980
In 1980, a photo of Penn Hills senior lineman Bill Fralic appeared in the Post-Gazette. Paul Slantis’ portrait of Fralic after a Penn Hills practice became an iconic picture that captured the essence of Fralic and Western Pennsylvania football.
Fralic’s pants were covered in dirt and dried mud. Streaks of dirt ran down his uncovered shins. His huge arms and legs were evident. Big, strong, menacing. That was Bill Fralic.
“I was an assistant at Penn Hills for Billy’s career,” said Fox Chapel’s Tom Loughran, a WPIAL head coach for almost 40 years. “He was the most dominant high school player I have ever known.”
Fralic is a Western Pennsylvania legend and one of the most legendary stories about Fralic came when he was working at a local golf course. Then Pitt coach Jackie Sherrill played the course one day and met Fralic. Sherrill’s first question to Fralic was, “What college do you play for?”
Fralic was in eighth grade at the time - and 6 feet 3, 235 pounds.
Fralic started as a freshman at Penn Hills in 1977, which was unheard of at the time at a larger school. He went on to Pitt, where he became one of the best linemen in college football history and eventually made the College Football Hall of Fame. He had a nine-year NFL career, made the NFL’s 1980s all-decade team and was a four-time Pro Bowler.
Fralic died of cancer two years ago, but his legacy will live forever in Western Pennsylvania. He was a member of the very first Fabulous 22 in 1980. One other member of the “all-time” Fab 22 is related to Fralic. The mother of former Central Catholic quarterback Marc Bulger is a cousin of Fralic’s.
“He was larger than life. He was the best,” Bulger said of Fralic. “He was my idol. It is such an honor to just be listed on this same Fab 22 team as him.”
North Hills | RB-LB | 1994-95-96
Arrington had this to say about his career: “I don’t even associate myself with my pro career. To me, there was nothing better than being a linebacker at Linebacker U. (Penn State). A close second is high school football.”
As a senior at North Hills, Arrington was considered the No. 1 player in the country and was selected the Parade magazine national player of the year. His legendary status comes partly from being one of the greatest two-way players in the history of Western Pennsylvania football (linebacker and running back).
He was a four-year starter at North Hills and when he graduated, he was one of only two players to run for 4,000 career yards in the WPIAL’s largest classification. He had 342 career tackles and 10 interceptions. He went on to Penn State, became an All-American, won the Butkus Award (nation’s top linebacker) and was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2000 draft. He played seven years in the NFL and made the Pro Bowl three times.
“This is the first time I ever said this, but truth be told, I was too scared to take a shot at being a 6-foot-3 tailback in college,” Arrington said. “Maybe I should’ve. But it made more sense because I could dominate more as a linebacker.”
In the voting for the all-time Fab 22, Arrington was a close second to Fralic. Arrington had 478 points and Fralic 487. Fralic had 13 first-place votes and Arrington five.
“Do you understand how many ridiculously amazing, super-gifted dudes aren’t on this all-time list?” Arrington said. “I’m so humbled. But for me, it’s all about the experiences and influences on me, from my pee-wee league coaches, to high school coaches, to my family, teammates and so many others. If I’m No. 2 on this list, they’re No. 2 with me. This No. 2 slot isn’t all about LaVar. It’s a product of all those people.”
These days, Arrington is the head coach at Maranatha High School in California. He also will be a co-host of a new weekly show and podcast on Fox Sports Radio. “Up On Game” launches Saturday with Arrington and former NFL players Plaxico Burress and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Penn Hills | OL-DT | 2008-09
Donald was a dominant defensive lineman at Penn Hills, but not that many colleges noticed him. When he committed to Pitt in the spring of his junior year, his only other scholarship offers at that time came from Rutgers, Toledo and Akron.
But Donald’s career took off at Pitt and he became a first-round draft pick of the Rams in 2014. He still plays for the Rams and twice has been selected NFL Defensive Player of the Year and has been called a shoe-in for the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday.
But in high school, Donald still had moments of greatness. One game is memorable, when Penn Hills beat Upper St. Clair in the 2009 WPIAL playoffs. Donald had three sacks in the game and spent about as much time in Upper St. Clair’s backfield as USC’s running backs. Jim Render, who retired as the winningest coach in WPIAL history, calls it one of the best defensive performances he ever saw.
“We couldn’t block him,” Render said.
Donald wasn’t far behind Arrington in the voting with 465 points.
Aliquippa | RB-WR-DB | 2003
Revis was a running back, receiver and defensive back at Aliquippa who, in 2003, had maybe the greatest three days of any athlete in Western Pennsylvania history. On a Sunday afternoon in Hershey, Revis had one of the best performances of any player in state championship history when he scored five touchdowns three different ways as Aliquippa won the PIAA Class 2A title. Only two days later, with no practice, Revis scored 35 points for Aliquippa’s basketball team in a big victory against rival Beaver Falls.
“Being a sports fanatic like I am, I know those three days, those 72 hours were unreal,” Revis said in the spring when he was selected to the WPIAL Hall of Fame.
While Revis, who now lives in Florida, was certainly talented in high school, his star shined brighter in college as a defensive back at Pitt. He became a first-round pick in the 2007 NFL draft and had a storied pro career, winning a Super Bowl and becoming known as one of the greatest cornerbacks in NFL history. He is a seen as an almost-certain Pro Football Hall of Famer in the future.
Revis finished with 458 points in the voting, and he, along with Fralic, Arrington and Donald, were the only four with more than 400 points.
Jeannette | QB-DB | 2006-07
One factoid tells all you need to know about Pryor’s talent at Jeannette: He is the only player in Pennsylvania high school football history to rush for 4,000 yards and pass for 4,000 yards in a career. And don’t forget Pryor also was a terrific safety at Jeannette – and he scored more than 2,000 points in basketball.
After Pryor’s senior year, he was selected the prestigious Parade magazine national player of the year. He went on to play quarterback at Ohio State and then in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders. He eventually switched to receiver and played for a few other NFL teams. Pryor, who lives in Pittsburgh, is keeping in shape, hoping to possibly land a spot with an NFL team yet this season.
He called making the all-time Fab 22 team an honor, but he was half-joking and half-serious at being only the No. 5 player on the list.
“Aaron Donald didn’t score any touchdowns,” Pryor said. “Darrelle Revis did, but he definitely didn’t score as many as me. That doesn’t make a lot of sense. But it doesn’t matter. It’s still a great honor.”
See the full, 22 player all-time Fab 22 team
And now a position by position look at the entire all-time Fab 22 team.
Marino, Montana, Unitas or Namath weren’t eligible for the all-time team but it still has some stars. Pryor didn’t do much in the NFL as a QB, but he still accomplished plenty.
Pryor is one of five QBs on the list. Among the other four is Brashear’s Major Harris, who came close to winning the Heisman Trophy at West Virginia, finishing third in 1989. A member of the College Football Hall of Fame, he was the ultimate dual-threat QB before the term became popular.
There is also Central Catholic’s Bulger, who was the second-fastest in NFL history to throw for 15,000 yards. Tyler Palko had a 48-7 record as a starting QB at West Allegheny, had an outstanding career at Pitt and played in the NFL.
Pine-Richland’s Phil Jurkovec is the youngest player on the all-time list. He is a redshirt sophomore at Boston College. Jurkovec is one of the most accomplished QBs in WPIAL history and had 11,144 yards offense in his career.
This position starts with Martin, the No. 6 rusher in NFL history and one of two City League players on the all-time Fab 22 (Brashear’s Harris is the other).
Hopewell’s Rushel Shell is the all-time leading rusher in Pennsylvania history with 9,078 yards.
Washington’s Brian Davis only played part of one season in college at Pitt and never played again, but his accomplishments in high school put him on the team. He was compared to Tony Dorsett in high school and was the Parade magazine national player of the year in 1984. Pryor and Arrington also won the prestigious Parade award.
With Fralic and Donald, Penn Hills produced two of the four linemen on the all-time team. The other two are Aliquippa’s Sean Gilbert and Freeport’s Jeff Christy.
Christy actually was a fullback-linebacker-kicker at Freeport, but moved to the offensive line at Pitt. He had a long NFL career at center and won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Gilbert played linebacker in high school before moving to the defensive line at Pitt and in the NFL. At Aliquippa, he was USA Today’s national defensive player of the year in 1988.
Many on the selection committee struggled with what to do with Rob Gronkowski. He played only one year at Woodland Hills and caught only 8 passes. But it wasn’t his fault that Woodland Hills didn’t throw much and Gronkowski still showed plenty of talent blocking and on defense. Plus, he might end up as the greatest tight end in football history. Gronkowski had enough votes to place 17th on the all-time team.
Woodland Hills’ Breaston played quarterback in high school and was one of the most exciting players in WPIAL history. He moved to receiver at the University of Michigan and then played receiver for the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl against the Steelers.
Clairton’s Tyler Boyd was a jack-of-all-trades in high school and is still the ninth-leading rusher in WPIAL history. But he became a standout receiver at Pitt and is still in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals.
What a foursome on the all-time team – and they all played in college at Linebacker U. (Penn State). They are Arrington, McKeesport’s Brandon Short, Upper St. Clair’s Sean Lee and Hopewell’s Paul Posluszny.
“That’s an incredible group to be associated with, especially being the youngest,” Lee said. “Those guys were such influences on me. I looked up to them for years, particularly LaVar and Brandon because I had heard stories about them. Then I got to watch Paul and play with him when I got to Penn State. To be on an all-time list with them is such an honor.”
“People don’t realize how good he was,” Arrington said.
Posluszny and Lee also were talented running backs in high school and Lee played safety before moving to linebacker at Penn State. He has been to the Pro Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys and is still playing.
Posluszny won numerous awards at Penn State and was a Pro Bowl selection in the NFL. He retired a few years ago.
As stated before, Aliquippa’s Law is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Revis might join him someday. Law also was a talented receiver-wingback at Aliquippa.
The other defensive back on the all-time team was a member of that first Fabulous 22 in 1980. Mark Kelso also played running back at North Hills and went on start at safety on the four Buffalo Bills teams that made it to the Super Bowl.
Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @mwhiteburgh