The Post-Journal

Turning Back The Clock

Remembering The Day Conlan Got The Call


I couldn't help but smile.

There, on Sports Illustrated's website Wednesday night, was a link to "historic photos of the NFL draft.''

Intrigued, I began to click through each page and its accompanying photograph. Among the highlights were:

Dick Butkus in 1964.

Lynn Swann and Chuck Noll in 1974. Jack and John Elway in 1983.

Bruce Smith and family in 1985.

Three clicks after Bruce, Buffalo's first pick, was a photo of long-time ESPN NFL analyst and host Chris Berman standing in front of the draft board during the cable network's broadcast. The players listed in the first column included, among others, Vinny Testaverde, Cornelius Bennett, Rod Woodson, Jerome Brown and a guy by the name of Shane Conlan.

That photo was taken 24 years ago, long before the NFL draft became the national phenomenon it is now, but I remember that Tuesday in April 1987 like it was yesterday.

It was kind of surreal, actually.

When I pulled up to Conlan's house in Frewsburg about 7:45 a.m., I saw TV trucks and cars filling the driveway and lining up on both sides of the street. Inside, were dozens of family, friends and media glued to a television set in the basement, awaiting the moment when Commissioner Pete Rozelle would announce Conlan's name.

In reality, the wait was only about 90 minutes - the Buffalo Bills, after a trade, selected Conlan with the eighth overall pick - but I wish I could throw a challenge flag and see a replay of that morning.

Here's what I remember:

-The basement rec room was jammed and Conlan looked as if he was awaiting a root canal. He sat in a chair for a while, walked around a bit, sat on the edge of a couch and hung up the phone on his younger brother, Mike, when the latter - then a freshman at Rutgers University - called to find out how things were progressing.

Keep in mind, this was years before cell phones, home computers, text messaging, Twitter and Facebook. Heck, Conlan eventually took the call from the Bills while standing in his kitchen, talking into the phone that hung just to the left of the kitchen door.

Imagine that!

- Trey Bauer, Conlan's Penn State teammate, had me convinced that Conlan was going to end up with Cleveland Browns. We were sitting next to each other on a couch when he informed me that then-Cleveland coach Marty Schottenheimer had told Conlan weeks before that, if he was available when the Browns picked in the first round, they would take him.

Armed with that information, I found the box of NFL team hats that I had brought with me to use as a photo prop - courtesy of Collins Sports Shop, which used to do business on Cherry Street in Jamestown - and fished out the one with the Browns' colors on it. Then, Rozelle stepped to the microphone and announced: "With the fifth pick, the Cleveland Browns select Mike Junkin, linebacker, Duke University."

Conlan looked like he was headed for his second root canal.

I had to ask Bauer who Junkin was. As it turned out, Browns' fans had to do the same thing. Injuries and ineffectiveness limited Junkin to 20 games over three seasons with seven starts. Conlan, by contrast, played in three Super Bowls, three Pro Bowls and was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in his inaugural season.

-Three picks later, the wait was over. Conlan was a Bill. Using the eighth selection in the draft, acquired from Houston in exchange for their third overall selection, the Bills were able to get the man Coach Marv Levy wanted all along. Ironically, Junkin had also been on Buffalo's radar.

"We decided when we traded down we'd be tickled to death to end up with either of those players," Levy said at the time.

-After doing some interviews and writing the story, I hustled, with my Tandy computer in tow, to Frewsburg Lanes where proprietor Paul Holmes was gracious enough to let me transmit my story to The Post-Journal so that it could appear in that day's edition (we were an afternoon paper in those days).

-The next day, I accompanied Shane and his family to Rich Stadium for his introductory press conference. After he answered questions and posed for photos, we hopped back in the car and returned to Frewsburg.

On our way home, though, we decided to stop for lunch.

A thick-crust pie from a suburban Buffalo Pizza Hut hit the spot.

I bet Berman would have liked it, too.

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