Injuries Didn't Stop Shane Conlan
By Scott Kindberg
January 5, 1987
With 6 1/2 minutes remaining in the first quarter Friday night, Shane Conlan laid on the turf of the Fiesta Bowl, the victim of an inadvertent leg whip by a teammate.
Out ran three members of Penn State's medical crew. They examined him and Conlan eventually walked off the field under his own power. But how serious was the injury?
The Frewsburg native certainly didn't look very comfortable on the bench, moving the ailing leg gingerly. "It really hurt," Conlan told the Post-Journal early Saturday morning from his Scottsdale, Ariz., hotel room. "I said, 'You'll have to kill me to get me off the field.' I knew I would come back."
True to his word, Conlan shook off the knee injury, and an ankle injury late in the fourth quarter to post his second straight outstanding bowl performance, earning him the defensive Most Valuable Player award. Penn State won the game and its second national championship in five years 14-10 over the Miami Hurricanes.
Some observers regarded Conlan's effort in last year's Orange Bowl loss to Oklahoma one of the best ever by a Nittany Lion linebacker.
What, then, will they call his latest bowl-busting performance, one which included two interceptions and eight tackles?
Oh sure, there were some whispers in the television booth about whether Conlan was at full strength during much of the first half.
Former Penn Stater, Jimmy Cefalo, now a broadcaster for NBC, felt that Conlan was not having the kind of game he was capable of.
"He's not been as big a factor as we thought he'd be," Cefalo said early in the third quarter.
Somehow Conlan "heard" Cefalo's remark.
On the next play, Conlan intercepted a Vinny Testavede pass, returning it 8 yards before stumbling, his knee still playing tricks on him.
"I don't know what he was thinking," Conland said. "He threw it right to me. I was so tired my legs wouldn't work." The Lions failed to capitalize on the turnover as fullback Tim Manoa fumbled the ball back to Miami.
But Conlan had Testaverde's number.
The focal point of Penn State's "bubble" defense, Conlan was positioned all over the field in an effort to confuse Testaverde.
Testavede, who, with many of his teammates, wore fatigues upon his arrival in Arizona, didn't appear battle ready.
His statistics were mildly impressive - for him: 26 of 50, 285 yards.
But Penn State picked off five passes, including two apiece by Conlan and fellow linebacker Pete Giftopoulos, and recovered two fumbles.
"He got a little rattled," Conlan said. "His receivers dropped a lot of balls and started forcing."
Conlan's second theft in the fourth quarter will be one for the highlight films.
He stepped in front of a Testaverde pass and sprinted down the sideline before being tripped up at the Miami 5-yard line.
"We were in coverage and I stepped in front," Conlan said. "I wanted to score. I should have scored."
But two plays later, teammate D. J. Dozier did the honors to put Penn State in the lead for good, 14-10.
Miami's last-gasp effort to win the game and with it a national championship boiled down to a fourth-down pass from the Lions' 13. Giftopoulos picked it off at the 1-yard line to preserve the victory.
"We knew somebody would make a play," Conlan said. "Someone has been doing it all year."
In Conlan's case, he's been making the big plays for four years, but none bigger than the two Fiesta Bowl interceptions, which matched his career total.
"I was in a lot of good positions to make a lot of plays," he said.
That's why he's considered by many to be the greatest linebacker in the history of Linebacker U.