The Post-Journal

Orange Bowl Memories: Who Needed A Credential When You Had Kay?

Orange Bowl ticket stub
Above is the ticket stub from the 52nd annual Orange Bowl, which pitted Penn State against Oklahoma for the national championship on Jan. 1, 1986. Photo courtesy of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.

In a small room tucked in the back of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame in downtown Jamestown is a bank of file cabinets. One drawer in that sea of metal is labeled “Shane Conlan.” Upon opening it, I find media guides, magazines and framed autographed photos that help tell the story of the former All-American and Pro Bowl linebacker from Frewsburg, who is a 1992 CSHOF inductee.

But 35 years and three days later, neither my vantage point that balmy night (Section P, Row 45, Seat 11) or Shane’s outstanding performance (six solo tackles, including three for loss, and a fumble recovery) are what I remember most from my New Year’s night in South Florida. Rather, it’s what happened in the hours after the game that still resonates decades later.

Credit for that goes to a Conlan, of course, but not the one you might think.

I joined The Post-Journal sports staff in late November 1983, wrote my first story on Shane weeks later in anticipation of Penn State’s appearance in the Hula Bowl and then, not long after, began following his accomplishments that would eventually place him among the best to ever play in Happy Valley.

Among the many benefits of following Shane’s collegiate and professional careers was establishing a friendship with his parents, Dan and Kay. In fact, it wasn’t unusual back in those days for me to have a weekly off-the-record phone conversation with Kay during which we would talk about the Nittany Lions’ upcoming game. For a green-as-grass sportswriter, it was pretty cool.

Which brings me to that Orange Bowl game 35 years ago.

By that time, Shane, a redshirt senior, was an All-American outside linebacker, the focal point of a defense that had led the top-ranked Nittany Lions to a much-anticipated matchup with Oklahoma. Given the magnitude of the game and Shane’s expected role in it, The Post-Journal decided to send me to Miami to cover it.

The only issue was I was unable to obtain a credential granting me press box or postgame locker room access. Those credentials were only provided to media members who regularly covered the teams involved. Since I had covered only one Penn State game that season — at Pittsburgh — the best the Nittany Lions’ sports information department could do was provide me a ticket — Section P, Row 45, Seat 11.

That turned out to be just fine, because I had the ultimate media relations advocate in my corner: Kay Conlan, who was attending the game with her family. Before kickoff, I met her at Gate 8 and we mapped out a strategy where we would rendezvous after the final gun. And even though Penn State ended up losing, Kay wasn’t about to let the “local” sportswriter leave the Sunshine State without a story.

So off we went … in my rental car.

With Kay riding shotgun, she gave me directions from the Orange Bowl to the Fountainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach where the Nittany Lions were staying. Upon arrival, Kay walked into the lobby like she owned it (I was trailing behind, as I recall); and she found the appropriate elevator that transported us to the floor where the Penn State players were housed. When the elevator doors opened, she marched me toward a certain room and knocked on the door.

Guess who opened it?

Shane.

Guess who got a one-on-one interview?

Yours truly.

Who needs a credential when you have Kay?

Thirty-five years later, I still count that evening in South Florida as one of my career highlights. And, on a personal level, Kay’s kindness to me continued until she passed away last August.

I was blessed to call her friend.


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