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Dapper Dan: Pittsburgh sports luminaries feted at banquet

Sunday, February 10, 2002

By Chuck Finder, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

One award winner was in Hawaii. Another was on the ballroom dais at the Hilton and Towers, Downtown, in her hometown. A third was on that same dais but still trying to separate himself from his Cleveland roots.

Chuck Noll was inducted into the Pittsburgh Hall of Fame last night. (Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette)

Despite the geographical separation last night, despite their varied sporting backgrounds, their reaction rang the same: Thanks, Pittsburgh.

Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart, playing for the AFC in the Pro Bowl yesterday, and golfer Carol Semple Thompson were honored at the 66th Dapper Dan Dinner as the Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year 2001. And Hall of Fame Steelers coach Chuck Noll, who received the warmest ovation, was enshrined in the Dapper Dan Charity Pittsburgh Hall of Fame at the dinner attended by 1,300.

Semple Thompson was celebrated for her 30-year-plus career as a local, national and international golfer. Stewart was rewarded for his personal comeback and his helping hand in the Steelers' return to the NFL playoffs after a three-year absence. And Noll ... well, 23 years of Steelers service and four Super Bowl championships count for a lot in these parts.

"Obviously, the past few years have been some difficult years. Not just for the team and the fans, but for myself," Stewart said in a video taped before the Pro Bowl, where he completed 6 of 12 passes for 45 yards in a 38-30 AFC triumph. "Just to have this opportunity right now ... receiving this award, I don't know how else to explain it to you how appreciative I am."

Stewart was the 12th African-American to receive the Dapper Dan top honor since its 1939 inception and the second Steelers player to win in the past 15 years. He was the first quarterback winner since Pitt's Dan Marino in 1983 and the first Steelers quarterback winner since Terry Bradshaw in 1975. In his video acceptance, Stewart, a native of Marrero, La., also credited his offensive line "first and foremost," his wide receivers, "Jerome [Bettis] and his crew," the tight ends, coaches and the defense -- "that Nasty D."

Semple Thompson, a Pittsburgh native and the first Dapper Dan golf honoree since Arnold Palmer in 1960, called it "such a wonderful honor." She added, "I've been looking up to this organization for a number of years. It's quite something to be finally standing up here." Then she sarcastically thanked her pushy mother: "I think her mail-in campaign finally worked."

Noll joked about there being nothing wrong with coming from Cleveland -- "far from it." He thanked his "Hall of Fame" assistants, his players and the creative Steelers fans from his 1969-91 Steelers tenure. Eight of his players, two of his bosses (Dan and the late Art Rooney) and one assistant (Dick Hoak) were all enshrined into the Pittsburgh Hall before him.

Golfer Carol Semple Thompson was honored as the Sportswoman of the Year.(Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette)

Tongue in cheek, Noll, once media-reticent, talked about how he wasn't sure why 13 of his former players went into broadcasting.

"The only thing I can blame it on is the Terrible Towel. I think they saw Myron [Cope] having so much fun, they decided that's what they wanted to do after football."

L. Budd Thalman, longtime athletic administrator at Penn State and Navy and former public relations director of the Buffalo Bills, was honored with the club's Lifetime Achievement award. Upon being informed months ago that he would receive the honor, Thalman had a question: How on earth was I selected? Last night, Thalman joked, "When I understood Arthur Andersen tabulated the balloting ..."

Among some of the other humorous highlights from the evening:

New Jersey Devils and former Penguins coach Kevin Constantine, notorious for his lengthy game-tape meetings, pointed to the two large screens in the ballroom's corners. "We've got about a 45-minute video session right now."

Constantine, who noted that he once served as a practice-fodder goaltender during Mario Lemieux's workouts toward his 2000 comeback, also talked about the Junior-A hockey Forge he helped to found, his place of employment between NHL jobs and about staying a Pittsburgh guy. "Knowing the life span of an NHL coach," he said, "I'll be back working at the Island Sports Center someday."

West Virginia University football coach Rich Rodriguez claimed he swiped the napkin on which West Allegheny High quarterback and Pitt recruit Tyler Palko got his dais neighbor David Priestley, Pitt's starting quarterback last season, to diagram Panthers plays. "At least I can have two plays defended," Rodriguez said. (In truth, Palko asked Priestley to show him Panthers pass-protection schemes.)

Portly Duquesne Coach Greg Gattuso offered his perspective on the ongoing vitae controversy in college football. "With all my bosses here from Duquesne, I'd like to correct my resume. I was not an Olympic gymnast, nor did I win a gold medal. It was a mistake: I was the head coach at Seton-LaSalle High and not at Notre Dame. And I am not 6-1, 190 pounds."

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