Bill Fralic, a three-time All-American at the University of Pittsburgh who went on to become one of the NFL’s best offensive linemen of the 1980s, died on Thursday after a battle with cancer. He was 56.
Fralic’s death was first reported in a news release on the Pittsburgh Panthers athletic department’s official website, which noted his accomplishments for the Panthers as a four-year starter from 1981 to 1984 — and a three-time first team All-American. He also became the first offensive lineman in college football history to rank twice in the top 10 of the annual Heisman Trophy voting, finishing eighth in 1983 and sixth in 1984. He was responsible for the invention of the term “pancake block,” due to how he often left opposing defensive linemen flat on their back.
“Bill Fralic is the best,” read a statement from former Pittsburgh offensive line coach Joe Moore.
“If you can find somebody better, bring him to me. I’ve been privileged to coach some good ones here, but none better than Bill Fralic. Those [kinds] only pass through once.”
Pittsburgh head football coach Pat Narduzzi also issued a statement recognizing Fralic’s contributions to the Panthers, calling him an “all-time human being” on top of being one of the school’s all-time greatest football players.
“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.”
After his successful career at Pitt, Fralic was picked second overall in the 1985 NFL Draft. He went on to play nine seasons in the league, suiting up for the Atlanta Falcons, from 1985 to 1992, and the Detroit Lions in the 1993 season. He was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1980s, having earned two All-Pro and four Pro Bowl selections during his professional football career.
Fralic — whose No. 79 jersey was retired by the University of Pittsburgh during his final home game with the Panthers in 1984 — was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1998. A native of Western Pennsylvania, he was also named to the inaugural class of the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) Hall of Fame in 2007 for his achievements in high school football and wrestling.
As noted by Fox News, Fralic became a color commentator for the Atlanta Falcons and the Pittsburgh Panthers after his NFL career ended, and was known for his staunch criticism of steroid use in pro football. He also spent his time away from the football field making a notable cameo in the world of professional wrestling, as he was one of several NFL players to compete in a battle royal at WrestleMania 2 in 1986.