Shane Conlan

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Buffalo Bills Linebacker

While the Buffalo Bills of the early 1990’s are best remembered for their potent, high-octane offense, the true foundation of the Super Bowl teams was a swift, punishing defense that led the Bills’ rise to an Eastern Division Championship in 1988. One of the cornerstones of that defense was the Bills’ first-round pick (eighth overall) in 1987, linebacker Shane Conlan.

Conlan’s lofty status as a first-rounder was well-deserved. Shane was Western New York high school Player of the Year while at Frewsburg High in 1981 and a consensus All-American on an undefeated Penn State squad that captured the National Championship in 1986. The second-ranked tackler in school history, Conlan was lauded by Coach Joe Paterno as the best of many outstanding linebackers that have suited up for the Nittany Lions over the years.

Shane was an immediate contributor to a dominant Bills’ defense upon his arrival in the NFL, recording nine tackles in his debut against the New York Jets. His speed gave him tremendous versatility, and made him equally effective against the run and pass. He led the team in tackles, initial hits, and assists as a rookie in 1987, and evoked comparisons to other great number 58’s, linebackers such as Mike Stratton and Jack Lambert. Shane’s efforts were recognized by his selection to the NFL All-Rookie Team by United Press International, as NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press, and as NFL Rookie of the Year by the Professional Football Writers of America. Conlan, Bruce Smith, and Cornelius Bennett formed the nucleus of a stout defense; the advent of the K-gun offense in 1990 made the Bills dominant on both sides of the ball and paved the way for the glory years.

From 1990-1992, Conlan enjoyed three straight trips to the Pro-Bowl; coincidentally, he and his Bills teammates enjoyed three consecutive AFC Championships. Perhaps the third trip was the most rewarding for Shane and his defensive mates; after the Bills rose from the ashes against the Houston Oilers in the greatest comeback in NFL history, the smothering defense sparked road wins against Pittsburgh and Miami with dominating performances.

Conlan finished his NFL career with the St. Louis Rams, hanging up his spikes after the 1995 season. However, the pride of Frewsburg will always be remembered as a fleet, hard-hitting Buffalo Bill, and the career exploits of this WNY native have reserved for Shane a locker in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.