October 29, 2009
From his days as Western New York's Player of the Year during his senior season at Frewsburg Central School, to his All-American linebacking exploits at Penn State, to his Pro Bowl honors in the NFL, including a place on the Buffalo Bills' 50th anniversary team, the photos - some yellowed after more than 25 years - brought a smile to his face.
But the self-described ''quiet kid from Frewsburg'' wasn't immune to some good-natured ribbing from his childhood friend, Steve Cass, during an appearance at the Robert H. Jackson Center.
Cass, now the Chautauqua County Surrogate Court judge, recalled the time that he and Shane's older brother, Kevin, drove to Pittsburgh to watch the red-shirt freshman, play against Pitt.
''We sit down next to these people and it's a kickoff,'' Cass recalled. ''Shane was on special teams his first year and this guy said, 'Wait until you see this kid - No. 31 - he's unbelievable. We just watch these games to watch this kid. He's going to be the most incredible football player some day.'
''Shortly after that, Kevin and I worked our way down to the field.''
Yes, as Cass told a lunch-time gathering, he and Kevin - with no credentials - talked their way onto the Nittany Lions' sideline.
''We were talking to Shane and Joe Paterno was (a short distance away),'' Cass said. ''Shane was supposed to be on one of the field goal units and they called him out there and Shane's talking to us. There were 10 players (instead of 11) and (Paterno) has to call a time out because they don't have enough players.''
Clearly irate, Paterno screams for his young linebacker.
''He looks,'' Cass said, ''and there's Shane talking to Kevin and I. Paterno starts yelling at us, 'Get those guys off the field and Conlan you cost us a timeout. Get out there.' ''
It was one of the few times in his athletic life that was embarrassed on a football field.
''Once you got to play for him, you hated him, especially when you were young,'' Shane said of Paterno. '' ... Now you understand why he did some of the things he did. He's more than a coach. He was a teacher of life, he's a father figure. He always had a reason for the stuff he did.''
As it turned out, Shane was a good student.
Conlan, who now lives in Sewickly, Pa. with his wife, Caroline, and four children, has been out of football since the mid-1990s, but he's not far from the game he loves, serving as an assistant coach on his oldest son's high school team. A fine quarterback for Quaker Valley, Patrick, a junior, is getting some early attention from Division I colleges.
It helps that the younger Conlan has someone at home who has experience in that area.
The story is familiar by now. Basically unnoticed by major colleges in his senior year at Frewsburg, Conlan finally landed a scholarship after Penn State assistant Tom Bradley drove through a blizzard to watch him play a basketball game.
''I owe a lot to my (high school) coach Tom Sharp,'' Conlan told Robert H. Jackson Center chairman Greg Peterson, who conducted the interview. ''I got turned down by a lot of people.''
Penn State had the last laugh.
In Conlan's college career, he was a two-time All-American and was a member of the 1986 team that knocked off the Miami for the national championship. For his part, Conlan intercepted two passes and, three months later, he was the eighth overall selection in the 1987 NFL draft.
''I just remember I got a call from the Cleveland Browns the night before that they were going to trade (linebacker) Chip Banks and they were going to take me.''
It never happened.
The Browns picked Duke linebacker Mike Junkin instead. That left the door open for the Bills.
''It was great,'' Conlan said. ''I loved it.''
By the time he left the Bills for the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent following the 1992 season, he had played in three Super Bowls and a couple Pro Bowls. His efforts were rewarded when he was named earlier this year to the Bills 50th anniversary team. That squad was honored at Ralph Wilson Stadium last month.
''It was just great to get back with all those guys,'' Conlan said. ''We're a little older, a little fatter, a little balder, but it was the same (stuff) that came out of their mouth, just like it used to.''
A part owner of a corporation that has interests in gas, oil, aviation and real estate, Conlan still has his roots in the area where his parents, Dan and Kay, sister, Kelly, and brothers, Kevin and Mike, still live. He's also a Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame inductee.
''It's great,'' he said of his local enshrinement, ''because I grew up here and to be recognized in the area as one of the best, it's a great honor for me. I'm just a quiet kid from Frewsburg.''
It was his play on the field that made all the racket.