Former Penn State linebacker Shane Conlan was one of 14 players elected to the College Football Hall of Fame on Thursday.
“It’s been a tough time the last few years at Penn State,” he said, fighting back tears as he thanked “The late, great Joe Paterno. We miss you, Coach.”
After only being offered scholarships by Rutgers and Penn State, Conlan went on to be a two-time, first-team all-American for the Nittany Lions, earning honors in 1985 and 1986.
In 1986, he anchored a defense that lead Penn State to a perfect 12-0 regular season, a 14-10 upset of Miami in the Fiesta Bowl and a national championship.
The Fiesta Bowl game between the Hurricanes and Nittany Lions remains the most-watched college football game of all time.
Conlan is joined by the late great Derrick Thomas, who spent four years at the University of Alabama, dominating on defense as few players have ever done in college football history.
“Alabama meant everything to Derrick, even after he moved to Kansas City,” Edith Morgan, Thomas’ mother, said Thursday. “He still had his Alabama (license) plates and went back to Alabama whenever he could.”
It took longer than Crimson Tide fans would have liked, but Thomas was elected Thursday. The class also included LaDainian Tomlinson, Sterling Sharpe and Tony Boselli.
Thomas, who died in 2000 at age 33 shortly after an automobile accident left him paralyzed, was one of the Hall of Fame’s most obvious omissions. Alabama fans had been growing increasingly annoyed by the wait in recent years.
His credentials could not be argued against. After choosing to attend Alabama over Oklahoma, Thomas played for the Tide from 1985-88. He won the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker as a senior when he had 27 sacks. He finished his career with 52 sacks, a school record.
“He was really, really fond of Alabama and he loved the Crimson Tide, not only the school but the city of Tuscaloosa itself,” Morgan said.
The new Hall of Fame class announced by the National Football Foundation at a news conference in Dallas also included a couple of Heisman Trophy finalists and two of the best offensive linemen of the early 1990s.
Tomlinson led the nation in rushing in his final two seasons at TCU (1999 and 2000) and finished fourth in the Heisman voting in 2000.
Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton was the Heisman runner-up to Ron Dayne in 1999.
Boselli played tackle at Southern California from 1991-94 and was the second overall draft pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995. Louisiana Tech tackle Willie Roaf was a finalist for the Outland Trophy as a senior in 1992.
Sterling Sharpe held virtually every receiving record when he left South Carolina after the 1987 season.
The rest of the players who will be inducted during the National Football Foundation’s awards banquet in December are: North Carolina cornerback Dre Bly; Purdue defensive tackle Dave Butz; Maine linebacker John Huard; Stanford running back Darrin Nelson; UCLA quarterback John Sciarra; McNeese State defensive back Leonard Smith; and Mississippi tight end Wesley Walls.
The two coaches who will join the Hall of Fame are Mike Bellotti, who led Oregon from 1995-2008, and Jerry Moore, who coached at North Texas, Texas Tech and Appalachian State.