HERSHEY, Pa. —
The Big 33 Game goes back to 1954, and has endured many incarnations in that time. One of the constants through the years has been the talent that has appeared on the field. The names that have appeared in the game resonate beyond their high school, college and even pro playing days.
Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Herb Adderley … all legends of the game, all played in the Super Bowl, and all played in the Big 33 Game. In fact, every Super Bowl played has had Big 33 alumni participate in the game.
It's a connection that's followed the Namaths, the Montanas, the Marinos, the Ty Laws, to today's Doran Grant
, Cardale Grant
, Dave Bowen
and Jameel Poteat
— who all played in the 54th Annual Big 33 Game at HersheyPark Stadium Saturday night.
Ohio beat Pennsylvania, 50-14, in the biggest loss in Pennsylvania's history in the game. And though the lopsided loss left a bad taste for the Pennsylvania players, they can always hold on to the iron-gripped bond between themselves and past players.
"That's all that was preached to us during the preparation for this game, and it is a big deal," said Ohio defensive back Grant, who's headed to Ohio State and returned an interception for a record 101-yard touchdown return in Ohio's victory. "You look around and see all of the talented players that were on this field and that doesn't surprise me, the connection between this game and the Super Bowl. I think there were some future pros on the field, and you're talking about two great states, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The game's final score was a blowout, but there was a tremendous talent level on this field."
Law should know.
The 1992 Aliquippa graduate and 15-year NFL pro was master of ceremonies this weekend at the Big 33. Law made the point that the prestigious Big 33 has launched many careers — one of which was his.
"This is a game where you're chosen among the top high school players in the state, and we played against an all-star team from Maryland," Law recalled. "The tradition and what the game stands for is a great tradition. Every time you hear about the game, it's an honor to be associated with it. But to know you played in this game, and played in the Super Bowl four times, with those great players that have played in this game, it makes it even more special.
"I'm not surprised every Super Bowl has had a Big 33 player in it. You look at the talent from Ohio and Pennsylvania, and see the talent on this field tonight, it's not surprising. Great athletes play in this game and what I find is you always hear guys from Texas, Florida, California, especially Florida, they're the loudest, but some of those guys from those states think they invented the game. This is my first time back since playing in this game in 1992, and I can really remember playing in it. I remember the anxiety of playing in the game, because you're going up against the best."
It's also a game where you find out a lot about yourself. Radnor's massive left tackle Dave Bowen more than held his own against Ohio's best. The 6-foot-7, 295-pound Bowen is headed to Boston College.
"It was a great honor to play in this game," Bowen said. "This was an incredible experience, playing after numerous Hall of Famers, real legends of the game, is a real confidence booster. This was a great step in getting ready for college speed. I'm happy with the way I played, and other than the final score, I was really pleased. It is a great proving ground for players."
There were a number of Penn State players that came and watched the game. Some were alumni of the game, like West Catholic (Philadelphia) graduate Curtis Drake.
"Until I went to college, this was the best talent I ever went up against," Drake said. "With the level of talent and level of competition that I played against, and what I see on this field tonight, that doesn't surprise me at all that there was a Big 33 player in every Super Bowl. It's about talent, and how you progress with that talent."
Poteat still felt stung by the loss. There was Pennsylvania pride riding in the game, but the Cincinnati-bound tailback from Bishop McDevitt (Harrisburg, Pa.), held some solace from playing in the Big 33.
"My teammates and myself, we can't hang our heads about this, though it's pretty tough," Poteat said. "There were some future NFL players on this field. You know you're playing against the best. It doesn't surprise me at all that there's been a Big 33 player in every Super Bowl. That's big. It's a real honor."
Jones, another Ohio State-bound recruit, was well aware of the connection, too, between the present and the past.
"The Super Bowl connection means a lot to me," Jones said. "I'm one of the guys that fell in line with them, knowing one day, I can be in the Super Bowl, too. There were a lot of great athletes on this field."
They all played with the same dream — playing one day in the Super Bowl. They received a great start Saturday night. If anything, they have history on their side.