Former Falcons offensive lineman Bill Fralic, who played for the team from 1985-92, died Thursday following a battle with cancer, according to the University of Pittsburgh.
Fralic was 56 years old.
After a storied career for the Pitt Panthers, the three-time All-American was drafted second overall in the 1985 draft by the Falcons.
He started immediately at right guard and went to four Pro Bowls and was twice named to the All-Pro team.
After 1992, he played one season with the Detroit Lions. He played in 132 NFL games, 131 as a starter.
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“I enjoyed being around him,” said David Archer, who was the Falcons’ quarterback during Fralic’s first three years with the team. “He was a very intense guy when it came to game day. He was one of those guys who looked at you on game day and you almost felt like I better play pretty well or this guy is going to rip my head off. That’s kind of the way he played, too.”
Fralic was on the 1991 Falcons team that finished the regular season 10-6 and went to the playoffs under coach Jerry Glanville.
“I was sad to hear that,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said after practice Friday. “I didn’t know he was battling through some stuff.”
Falcons owner Arthur Blank issued this statement Friday afternoon:
“On behalf of the Atlanta Falcons we would like to extend our condolences to all the family and friends of Bill Fralic,” he said. “Bill was a cornerstone of the Falcons for eight seasons, while earning four Pro Bowl nods and two All-Pro selections. He was a beloved Falcon, and we will always be grateful for the impact he made here in Atlanta.”
Fralic appreciated a good locker room prank and was a fine teammate.
“From a teammate standpoint, he and I had many of beer together,” said Archer, who currently is the Falcons’ color analyst on radio. “He was a good teammate. He was a good guy that loved to laugh. He loved to play little jokes on guys.”
Fralic knew how to carry out his pranks, too.
“He had a really cool sense of humor because he was one of those guys who could pull a joke on a guy, or get a guy in an awkward position and make fun of him in the locker room, and he wouldn’t give it away,” Archer said. “A lot of guys would give away the joke, but Bill was really good at keeping the poker face. Then the dude would never knew who did it because Bill wouldn’t give him any indication that he was the guy who did it.”
As good as he was on the field, he was also very outspoken off it and in 1989 testified in a U.S. Senate hearing about the rampant use of steroids in the NFL, pushing for stricter testing.
Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, said Fralic’s testimony was “refreshing and believable.”
Fralic’s tenure with the Falcons did not end well.
In his first in-depth interview after leaving the Falcons via free agency in 1992, with Len Pasquarelli of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he conceded that financial considerations - the three-year, $5.4 million contract with the Lions made him the highest-paid offensive guard in NFL history - were a major part of his decision to end his eight-year tenure with the Falcons. Money, however, was not the prime motivation, he indicated.
“In Atlanta, the coaches always preached that we wanted to be tough on defense and intimidate people,” Fralic said at the time. “And they always talked about how we wanted to be tough on special teams. It seemed that what they were saying without actually saying it was that we didn't have to be tough on offense. It was like, ‘Well, we're just going to beat people with our (offensive) talent.’ We didn't go out on the field to prove that we were the tougher offense. For me, given the way I play, that was hard to reconcile.”
Fralic, who was 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds, starred at the University of Pittsburgh from 1981-84. He became the first offensive lineman to twice finish in the top 10 of the Heisman Trophy balloting, placing sixth in 1984 and eighth in 1983.
Fralic's collegiate career led to the phrase “Pancake Block” being added to the football lexicon. Pitt publicists used “Pancakes” as a statistical barometer for each time Fralic put an opposing defensive lineman on his back.
Fralic additionally was named to the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team.
Fralic’s No. 79 jersey was retired by Pitt at halftime of his final home game in 1984, a 21-10 win over Tulane. He would go on to be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1998.
A western Pennsylvania native, Fralic became the first sophomore to letter in football at Penn Hills High School. He also became a WPIAL heavyweight wrestling champion for the Indians, compiling a 98-7 record on the mat.
Fralic was a member of the inaugural Pitt Athletics Hall of Fame class that was enshrined in September.
In 1989, he established Bill Fralic Insurance, which became a leader in specialized commercial trucking insurance. Fralic also did radio analyst work for the Falcons and Pitt football.
“Bill Fralic was not only an all-time player at the University of Pittsburgh, but also an all-time human being,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “His generosity, support and concern for others was unmatched. For as hulking a figure as he was, Billy was even larger in his kindness and passion for others. He leaves a wonderful legacy that goes well beyond football at Pitt, Penn Hills and all of Western Pennsylvania. Our hearts and prayers are with his wife, Susan, and all of his loved ones.”
Memorial arrangements will be announced at a later date.
“A gentle giant off the field and a guy who was fun to be around,” Archer said. “He had a great smile and a great laugh. But was also just an assassin on the field from a blocking standpoint and how he played with his demeanor.”