Sure, each Super Bowl matchup pits the winner of the AFC against the winner of the NFC. Both teams use a football. There is a game MVP, and even a halftime show which is much more extravagant now than 50 years ago. But, one thing that each Super Bowl has in common involves a high school all-star game that has been played every year since 1957. The Big 33 Football Classic, as it is known, is an annual high school all-star game. It features the best players in the state of Pennsylvania. Over the course of the game’s history, it has also featured players from Maryland, Ohio, and Texas.
Former Big 33 players and Super Bowl 51
In February in Super Bowl 51, there was one former Big 33 player on the Atlanta Falcons roster keeping the streak alive. Last year’s NFL MVP Matt Ryan, of course, was the Falcons starting quarterback and backing him up was veteran Matt Schaub. Prior to earning a scholarship to the University of Virginia, Schaub was a high school quarterback at West Chester East HS outside of Philadelphia. In 1999, he played for the Pennsylvania team that lost 21-14 to Ohio.
In all the years in between, a number of Big 33 players have gone on to Hall of Fame careers in the NFL. After being the first Big 33 player to play in a Super Bowl, Adderley went on to play in a total of three Super Bowls and finished his career with 48 interceptions. In 1980, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Pennsylvania has been known to produce some very good offensive linemen. One of the best played in the 1977 Big 33 game. Russ Grimm was a standout at Southmoreland HS where, ironically, he played quarterback and linebacker. He went on to play college football at the University of Pittsburgh where he became an All-American center. He was drafted in third round of the 1981 NFL Draft and played 11 seasons for the Washington Redskins. Grimm won three Super Bowls as a player with the Redskins. Later on he won another as a coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 2010, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Grimm is currently the offensive line coach for the Tennessee Titans.
Another standout lineman was Chris Doleman, who played in high school at William Penn in York, Pa. Doleman was a few years younger than Grimm and played in the 1980 Big 33 game. Like Grimm, Doleman played collegiately at Pitt and then enjoyed a 15-year NFL career. He recorded 150.5 career sacks, went to the Pro Bowl eight times and was a three-time All-Pro. He entered the Hall of Fame in 2012.
Pennsylvania has long been known as the cradle of high school quarterbacks. Several well-known signal callers ended their high school careers playing in the Big 33 game. Hall of Famer Joe Namath, from Beaver Falls, Pa., played in the 1961 edition of the Big 33. He went on to play for Bear Bryant at Alabama, and then famously guaranteed a victory in Super Bowl III. Namath delivered as his New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts, 16-7.
Joe Montana (1974), Jim Kelly (1978), and Dan Marino (1979) all played high school football in western Pennsylvania. They all played in the Big 33 game, and all three played in Super Bowls. All three are also members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jeff Hostetler, who won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants, played in the 1979 Big 33 game along with Marino. More recently, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, representing Ohio, played in the 2001 game. Roethlisberger has won two Super Bowls with Pittsburgh.
The Big 33 game continues to be played each summer currently pitting the best high school players in Pennsylvania against their counterparts in Maryland. With many of the top high school players now enrolling early or declining an invitation for fear of injury, the game is not what it used to be. Still, it is one of the biggest high school all-star games in the country. You can bet it will produce a few more players that someday will play for the ultimate prize – the Lombardi Trophy.