Ed. Note: this article originally ran on June 13, 2007. We're re-running because, well, it's slow this time of year and we're working on other things that will make your life better during the upcoming season. But we're also running it because the NFL Network tonight airs the annual Ohio-Pennsylvania high school all-star game, the "Big 33." (Spoiler! The game was actually played two weeks ago, and PA won big for the third year in a row. Still, it gives us an excuse to run this CHFF classic comparing the two states that make up the "Gridiron Breadbasket.")
The most amazing thing you can say about the quality of the football from the Breadbasket is that, according to Big33.org, every Super Bowl has featured an alumnus from the Big 33 game, including six who played or coached in the Super Bowl XLII classic between the Patriots and Giants.
All data below is based upon what was accurate last summer when this piece originally aired.
Cold, Hard Football Facts boy wonder intern
Football may not be called America's pastime, but it has undoubtedly evolved into America's favorite sport. And in some areas of the country football is not just a game, but a way of life. This love affair with football has long been the case in Ohio and Pennsylvania, the two states we refer to as the Gridiron Breadbasket.
Pro football was born in the Gridiron Breadbasket, while the sport at all levels is deeply ingrained into the local culture. Each state boasts two professional football teams; Ohio State and Penn State each draw over 100,000 fans to each and every home game; and both states are wholly devoted to high school ball on Friday nights in autumn. It should come as no surprise then that the two states have combined to produce a disproportionately large number of great NFL players and coaches.
But which state is truly tops when it comes to the great American game?
Since 1993, Ohio and Pennsylvania high school players have battled for breadbasket supremacy in a game called the Big 33, which pits the 34 best players from each state (yes, 33 players would make more sense to us, too).
Each state has laid claim to the hearty loaf of football supremacy. But as of today the Big 33 sits tied at seven wins apiece. The game actually had its genesis in the 1970s, when the two states squared off several times in high school all-star games. Before that, the cocky, pigskin-loving Pennsylvanians even had the audacity to take on a national all-star team, then fought in a lower-weight class in a game against Maryland all-stars.
But Pennsylvania vs. Ohio just fits kind of perfectly, like sausage and gravy. Both are great on their own, but together they give us something extra savory to spill down our shirt.
Over the years a slew of future NFL players have laced up and represented their state in the Big 33, including Charles Woodson, Lavar Arrington, Joe Jurevicius and Chris Hovan. Before the game took its current Penn. vs. Ohio Big 33 form in 1993, alumni included recent NFL stars such as Ty Law, Curtis Martin, Ricky Watters, Mark Stepnoski and Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Munchak.
This year, a lot is on the line. Ohio had won three straight, but Pennsylvania is coming off a big win last year. Each team is trying to regain the lead in the series and stake a claim as the best of the Gridrion Breadbasket.
But who needs a game to break the tie. All you really need is the proper use of some Cold, Hard Football Facts. Fortunately, these facts don't come with that same day-after-game jock strap smell.
Pro Football HOFers
Active NFL players
NFL Pro Bowlers (2006)
1 per 138,000
NFL players per capita
1 per 214,000
Super Bowl victories
Worst city name
Best city name
Jim Thorpe
NFL wins last 5 years
The Drive
Memorable NFL moment
Immaculate Reception
Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, Wright Bros.
Pioneers of flight
Terrell Owens
NCAA Div. 1 teams
NFL players recently arrested
Best football coach
Joe Paterno
Bob Evans biscuits
Culinary delight
Scrapple, cheese-steak, Roethlisburger
1950 Browns
Greatest NFL team
1978 Steelers
Dawg Pound
NFL fans known for
Terrible Towel
Heisman winners (by birthplace)
Heisman winners (by college)
U.S. presidents
Most famous industry
Pro Football HOF
Tourist attraction
Liberty Bell
State tree
Eastern Hemlock
1. Ohio is one of the premier NFL pipelines
Ohio should simply be known as a state that consistently produces NFL talent. For proof look no further than the most recent NFL draft. Of the 255 players selected, 18 played their high school football in Ohio. Included in the group of Ohioans are three first-round picks (Ted Ginn Jr., Brady Quinn and Anthony Gonzalez) and the most recent Heisman Trophy winner (Troy Smith). Not too shabby for a state whose two professional teams have a combined zero Super Bowl titles in 82 tries and whose last NFL championship came in 1964.
Ohio produces about 1 NFL player for every 138,000 residents. Only Texas (1 per 134,000) and Florida (1 per 102,000) are better. Even those numbers pale in comparison to the state of Washington, which produces one Starbucks drinker for every 2.3 residents.
2. Pennsylvania is the home of Legends
Pennsylvania has produced 26 players enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – more than any other state (California, a state several times larger in population, is second with 25 HOFers). The list of Pennsylvanians includes legends such as Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas and Chuck Bednarik, the captain of the CHFF All-Time 11.
And, of course, if you're looking at the most important position on the football field – quarterback – no state produces talent like PA. There are 23 Modern Era (two-platoon era) quarterbacks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Six of them – that's better than 1 in 4 for those of you keeping score at home – came out Pennsylvania: Montana, Unitas, George Blanda, Dan Marino, Joe Namath and Jim Kelly.
Ohio, for its part, is well represented with 21 members in the Hall of Fame. This group includes two quarterbacks: Len Dawson and Roger Staubach.
Then again Pennsylvania also produced Bob Kuhns, a competitive eater who once ate 56 hot dogs and buns in a single sitting. Anyone nicknamed "Lord of the Wings" is a legend in our book.
3. PA's recent talent pool does not live up to tradition
PA can still claim some top-level NFL talent, as evidenced by its nine NFL Pro Bowlers from a year ago. Marvin Harrison is a sure-fire Hall of Famer out of Philadelphia, while Ty Law, from Aliquippa near Pittsburgh, has had a memorable career and may have his own shot at HOF immortability.
But of the 255 NFL draftees this season, just three came from Pennsylvania. That's the same number from American Samoa, an isolated territory of fewer than 60,000 residents far from the Gridiron Breadbasket. PA products Darrelle Revis and Paul Posluszny are both good players, and the Jets and Bills are surely happy to have them. But is that really the best Pennsylvania can do? (The other PA draft product was Steve Breaston, a – what else – WR grabbed by Arizona.)
Overall, the talent coming out of PA has fallen far behind that found in a number of other states, including California, Texas, Florida, and, yes, even arch-rival Ohio.
Pennsylvania is the state that has produced more Hall of Famers than any other. Yet in 2007 it only had one more player drafted than Idaho. Seriously, Idaho? Even worse: Boise State probably would have smoked Penn State if they met up last season.
4. The Gridiron Breadbasket is smaller than we give it credit for
We generally include all of Pennsylvania as part of the Gridiron Breadbasket. But the truth is that the mother lode of PA pigskin talent is found in the western half of the state, and around Pittsburgh in particular. All three 2007 NFL draftees out of Pennsylvania came from the Pittsburgh area. And those six quarterbacks who represent the state in Canton? That's right. They're all from the Pittsburgh area, too.
The Bottom Line
Contributions from Pennsylvania and Ohio are both firmly implanted in football lore at all levels. Pennsylvania has a slightly greater history of producing legends, but there is little doubt Ohio has surpassed PA in modern-day results.
The case for Ohio is strong: the state has more Div. 1 college football programs; its preeminent program (Ohio State) in recent years has far outpaced the performance of PA's top football power (Penn State); it gave birth to the NFL and the best players in the history of the game ultimately find their way back to the sport's spiritual home, in Canton, Ohio; and, finally, the high schools of the Buckeye State produce more NFL talent, and more talent per capita, than those of the Keystone State.
But don't worry, PA. You'll always have Intercourse ... which is more than the average CHFF troll can say.