Fame Didn't Make Conlan Forget His Roots
By Scott Kindberg
September 15, 1996
For the first time in almost 25 years, Shane Conlan will not be donning a football helmet and shoulder pads this fall. After hundreds of games, thousands of hits and plenty of aches and pains, the Frewsburg native has decided to call it quits.
In typical Conlan style, there was no press conference or offical announcement by either of his former teams, the Buffalo Bills or the St. Louis Rams, and not even a mention in the agate of the daily sports transactions.
"Guys will sit back and wonder where I am and maybe that's even better," Conlan said.
On the field, he was one of professional football's fiercest competitors. As for the celebrity status that came with the job, he was never quite comfortable with it. He left the self-promoting to others. All he wanted to do was line up and hit somebody.
"I was paid to make tackles," Conlan said. "Some of the idiots now, (their celebrating) is out of hand."
Conlan earned three Pro Bowl selections and two All-Pro designations, but on a Buffalo team full of superstars, Conlan, as strange as it may seem, never received the recognition he deserved. That was usually heaped on Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett. For the most part, Conlan was taken for granted in Buffalo. Not by the coaching staff, but by many fans who didn't always embrace Conlan's unspectacular, but hardnosed play.
"Shane's is such a bring-your-lunch-bucket-to-work guy, who goes to work and doesn't say much," Bill coach Marv Levy once told me. "What he does, he does quietly, makes a lot of tackles, gets up, lines up and gets ready for the next one. It's a funny thing to say about a guy everybody acknowledges is a good football player. He's underrated. Shane Conlan is underrated."
But his career statistics demonstrate what he meant to the Bills and, later, to the Rams, the team that signed him as an unrestricted free agent on April 12, 1993.
In six seasons with the Bills, he played in 12 playoff games, including three Super Bowls and was twice named All-Pro. With the Rams, Conlan received the Dan F. Reeves Memorial Award as the team's Most Valuable Player after the 1994 season. For his career, Conlan played in 120 games, made 789 tackles, recovered five fumbles, forced 13 fumbles, had seven sacks and defended 21 passes.
No Hall-of-Fame numbers, but in his prime, Conlan was among the best of his position in the entire league.
Still, despite the fame, money and Super Bowl that came with a successful pro career, Conlan's fondest memories as a football player can be traced to rural Pennsylvania and a place called Happy Valley.
Conlan's days at Penn State placed him on the national sports map, earned him two national championships (1982 and 1986) and All-American honors and prepared him for the nine good years of NFL.
Credit for all that, Conlan says, goes to his high school coach, Tom Sharp, the man who knew that his prize athlete could play Division 1 football.
"I owe a lot to Tom Sharp," Conlan said. "He really went to bat for me. He called and called and called Penn State. I owe him a lot."
It was fitting then that on the day he finally decided to retire, Conlan - still the small-town guy at heart - was at a place where he once played football purely for the love of it. Standing on the field at Beaver Stadium last weekend (he and his ex-teammates from the '86 national championship team were honored at a halftime of Penn State's home opener), Conlan thought about the football dream that he lived out the last 15 years.
"It all came back to me," Conlan said.
"...It's kind of storybook," he continued. "It's been perfect."
That's what happens when you have the God-given ability, combined with the desire to work hard.
"I had a knack of hitting people and it paid off," Conlan said.
In a big, big way.