Shane Conlan, the Frewsburg native who starred at linebacker for both Penn State and the Buffalo Bills, was named to the College Football Hall of Fame on Thursday.
Conlan, who helped Penn State to the national championship in the 1986 season, becomes just the second player born in Western New York to enter the college hall. The other is Williamsville native and former NFL star Jim Dombrowski.
There were 16 men named to the hall’s 2014 class, including two men who also are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – Derrick Thomas and Willie Roaf. This year’s class includes 14 players and two coaches.
The college hall was founded in 1951 and is opening a new museum in Atlanta in the fall. There now are 948 players and 207 coaches inducted to the shrine. There have been 5 million college football players and coaches over the past 145 years.
Conlan, 50, was the Buffalo News high school Player of the Year for Frewsburg in 1981. He starred at Penn State from 1983 to 1986, earning first-team All-America honors his last two seasons. He’s a member of Penn State’s all-time team. He’s the 17th Penn State player in the college hall.
Conlan’s final college game was his greatest. He had eight tackles and two interceptions in Penn State’s 14-10 upset of the University of Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. That gave the Nittany Lions the national crown. Conlan’s second interception, which he returned 39 yards to the Miami 5, set up the winning touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
“I’d like to thank my family, my wife, Caroline, and my four kids,” Conlan said at a news conference in Irving, Texas.
Then Conlan got choked up for a moment before mentioning Penn State’s legendary coach, Joe Paterno.
“It’s been a tough time the last few years at Penn State,” Conlan said. “But most of all I’d like to thank two people who were important to me in my life. One being, the late, great Joe Paterno. Thank you so much for all you’ve done. We miss you, coach. And my defensive coordinator, Tom Bradley, who pushed, who found me.”
“I was from a very small school, and I had no offers, except for one, Penn State,” Conlan said. “And I’m talking any level – Division II or III. He went to bat for me, got coach to OK it, and offered me the next week. So thank you, Tom.
“Obviously the last people I’ll thank are my teammates. We didn’t really have a star on our team. We played in two national championship games and won one. People forget about the ’85 season, where we lost to Oklahoma. Great game. But we had no real stars. … We all worked together and we just had a great, great year.”
Conlan was a first-round draft pick of the Bills in 1987. He earned NFL defensive Rookie of the Year honors and made three Pro Bowls in six seasons with the Bills. He left the Bills in 1993 and played three more seasons, with the Rams.
Thomas starred at linebacker for the University of Alabama. Roaf was a tackle at Louisiana Tech.
Also selected to the 2014 class as players were: North Carolina cornerback Dre Bly, Southern California tackle Tony Boselli, Purdue defensive tackle Dave Butz, Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton, Maine linebacker John Huard, Stanford running back Darrin Nelson, UCLA quarterback John Sciarra, South Carolina receiver Sterling Sharpe, McNeese State defensive back Leonard Smith, Texas Christian running back LaDainian Tomlinson and Mississippi tight end Wesley Walls. Two coaches also were elected: Oregon’s Mike Belotti and Appalachian State’s Jerry Moore.
Smith started for the Bills at safety from 1988 to ’91. There are numerous former Bills in the college hall. The only other native Western New Yorker in the hall besides Conlan and Dombrowski is coaching legend Glenn “Pop” Warner, born in Springville.