The Post-Journal

Conlan Proved Actions Speak Louder Than Words

"There's no chance of him being a starter for us. None whatsoever." - Bills General Manager Bill Polian, August 4, 1987

Shane Conlan was in a difficult situation. He was the local kid, drafted by the local team and the subject of intense local media attention.

So when a contract holdout kept him out of training camp for 18 days last summer, the verbal salvos from the Buffalo brain trust at Fredonia State could almost be heard in the tiny hamlet of Frewsburg, thirty miles away.

Conlan didn't have to turn on the television or read a newspaper to know what was going on.

"It put too much hardship on my family," he said recently while reviewing his first season in the NFL. "We should have just left the area. If I ever go through this again, we're going someplace.

I was upset a little bit, but I knew I could go out and do something about it. I could go out and play and prove them wrong."

Did he ever.

Five months after he was told he wouldn't even be a starter on the Bills' defensive unit, Conlan is reaping the benefits after being named a consensus Rookie of the Year and a member of several All-Pro teams.

So much for rhetoric.

"I guess I expected to play about as well," said the inside linebacker who led the Bills in tackles with 114. "As far as the awards, I was very surprised about that. I just tried to play the best I could play. It's nice to be recognized afterwards, but I didn't think I'd be recognized as much as I was."

His honors include: The Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year, Pro Football Writers of America NFL Rookie of the Year, Old Spice NFL Rookie of the Year, NFLPA AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year, Pro Football Weekly All-Rookie, second team AP All-Pro, Sports Illustrated All-Pro, and fourth alternate on the Pro-Bowl team.

All that despite a pre-season knee injury, the players' strike - a four-week walkout from which most rookies were unable to recover - and a position change.

"It's not like I go out and play and think about it all the time, 'Hey, I'm getting a bonus if I get all-rookie,'" Conlan said. "I didn't go out that way. I went out just to play football, to try and get better. Now that I've won them, it's great. It's a great honor."

But somebody usually has to tell him about the honors. Here's one guy that doesn't get caught up in his press clippings.

"I don't look at the papers," he said. "You get in the locker room and everybody's got eight papers. I read the USA Today, but other than that, I don't read The Buffalo News and I don't get Sports Illustrated. I didn't even read the article about us (in the December 7th issue of SI). I just looked through it."

He leaves the collecting of clippings and photos to his parents, Dan and Kay. Conlan is more concerned with tackles, pass coverages and quarterback sacks, not to mention position changes.

The well-chronicled three-team trade that brought rookie outside linebacker Cornelius Bennett - the second player chosen in the draft - to Buffalo meant that Conlan, the eighth pick in the first round, would have to learn a new position.

The idea didn't thrill him - at first.

"I thought I was playing well (at left outside linebacker)," the former Penn State All-American said. "I thought they'd move him to the other side and maybe move Darryl (Darryl Talley, the right outside linebacker) inside. But when I moved in, I started playing well so it worked out all right. I was happy with it."

He should have been.

Conlan's already impressive play through the first four regular games cranked up a notch when he was finally switched to the inside for the November 15th game at Cleveland.

The following week at the Meadowlands against the Jets, Conlan recorded 10 tackles and two assists. One of the tackles was a ferocious hit on fullback Roger Vick that is highlight film material.

"That was my best hit of the year," he said. "It felt the best."

His quietly spectacular play was a key in the Bills' resurgence, which came much sooner than most people expected. The pressure from the holdout, the $1.7 million contract and the media and fans never affected the quiet, almost shy Conlan.

"I think I was pretty well accepted," he said. "I was accepted by the fans and the team. They were really supportive. Maybe if I didn't play well, if I'd had only two tackles a game, maybe I would have felt some pressure, but I was playing decent and the players knew that, so it helped me."

Conlan, who will spend his off-season working out, making speaking engagements, playing on the Bills' basketball team and looking for a house, sees Buffalo ready to make their move, despite disappointing season-ending losses to New England and Philadelphia.

"We're a good team. We're young and we have a lot of learning to do," he said. "We're not going to go out and win every game next year, but we're going to be a contender as we were this year.

People are so used to the Buffalo Bills getting blown out by teams like Miami, New England and the Raiders and it didn't happen. We turned a lot of heads."

Conlan did, too.

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