Bill Fralic entered the NFL with the greatest of expectations.
The Atlanta Falcons drafted Fralic with the second overall pick of the 1985 NFL draft. Only one offensive tackle in the history of the draft had gone higher – Hall of Famer Ron Yary, who went first overall to the Minnesota Vikings in 1968.
Yary had the good fortune of being drafted by a team on verge of becoming an NFL power that would go to the Super Bowl the following season in 1969. The Minnesota Vikings would win 10 division titles and go to three more Super Bowls during Yary’s 14-year career. He was rewarded for his play and that of his team, claiming a bust in Canton in 2001.
Fralic had the misfortune of being drafted by a bad team – the Atlanta Falcons. And even though the quality of his play was recognized by his election to the 1980s NFL all-decade team, Fralic has never once been a Hall of Fame finalist. And his candidacy is running out of time. Fralic enters his final era of modern era eligibility for the Class of 2018.
A two-time consensus All-America, Fralic was selected right after Hall of Famer Bruce Smith in the 1985 draft and ahead of Hall of Famers Chris Doleman and Jerry Rice. He began his career at Pitt pass blocking for Dan Marino and finished it run blocking for Craig “Ironhead” Heyward. The Falcons liked his versatility in both scheme and position and moved him to guard to take advantage of his dynamic drive blocking.
His talent was evident as Fralic lived up to the draft hype. He became a walk-in starter at right guard and his blocking was instrumental in an NFL-runnerup 1,719-yard rushing season by Gerald Riggs. That earned Fralic a spot on the NFL all-rookie team. Riggs followed that up with 1,327 yards in 1986 and Fralic was voted first-team all-pro and went to the first of his four consecutive Pro Bowls.
In 1988, Fralic and the Atlanta blocking front paved the way for a 1,024-yard season by John Settle, who became the first undrafted rookie in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards. But for all the success the Falcons had running the ball, they still couldn’t win any games. In his first six seasons, Atlanta managed to win only 27 of its 95 games.
The Falcons finally posted a winning season in Fralic’s seventh season, going 10-6 for a playoff berth, where they beat New Orleans in the first round before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins in the NFC semifinals in 1991.
Atlanta slid back to its losing ways in 1992, finishing 6-10. Fralic then left in free agency in 1993 to sign with the Detroit Lions, where he again plugged in at right guard. Barry Sanders averaged better than 100 yards rushing per game that season as the Lions finished 10-6, giving Fralic a return to the playoffs. But the Lions lost in the opening round to Green Bay, which turned out to be the final game of Fralic’s nine-year career. He retired.
The only knock on Fralic’s career is the lack of team success. Almost 68 percent of everyone enshrined in Canton owns a championship ring. Fralic does not. Now, if you’re Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or Stephen Curry, a guard can have a huge impact on the success of his team. But this isn’t basketball. This is football, where guards do not find their names on the marquee.
But there is a place in Canton for those who played that position. There are 17 guards with busts in the Hall of Fame. But Fralic never had a quarterback in his huddle like Jim Parker (Johnny Unitas), Gene Upshaw (Ken Stabler) or Larry Allen (Troy Aikman) all did. And he never won any championships like Gene Hickerson, Larry Little and Russ Grimm.
But as a run blocker who paved the way for three different 1,000-yard rushers and was voted one of the best guards of his era by this same Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee, Fralic deserves to have his own candidacy discussed, debated and voted upon. This looms as his final chance.