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U. of Pittsburgh
Pitt loss only adds to pain for Conlin

Monday, September 10, 2001

By Shelly Anderson, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

There is no reason to think any Pitt players took the team's upset loss to South Florida lightly or aren't doubly determined to do a better job this week.

One player, though, has a particularly compelling reason to push himself and the team to rebound from the 35-26 loss Saturday.

Joe Conlin did not endure four shoulder surgeries, hours of rehabilitation, dozens of missed practices and several missed games to see his final season of college football undermined by one bad game.

"It was a shock Saturday night and Sunday morning until we watched the tape," Conlin said. "It was hard to watch -- mistakes that were made, and we didn't have the fire we had last year. We've got to get it back. If we don't, we're going to be in a tough position."

Conlin, a 6-foot-5, 290-pound fifth-year senior from Greensburg Central Catholic High School, starts at defensive tackle when he's healthy. And sometimes when he's not.

He sustained a high ankle sprain in the South Florida game but kept playing and, afterward, limped up a few stairs to a sit at a table in the interview room. He is still limping but has no intention of sitting out Saturday, when the Panthers (1-1) play host to UAB (1-1).

"Yeah, I've had some bumps and bruises, and I sprained my ankle, but I'm not going to come out," he said. "We're treating it, but I should be fine."

Conlin has started 13 games and made 74 tackles, including two sacks, in his career. Perhaps, his most impressive statistics are in the medical field.

Ask him to recount those, and the list spills out.

"Four shoulder surgeries, three right, one left," he said. "Posterior rotator cuff tear, biceps tendon tear, shoulder popped out a couple of times, cartilage on the left shoulder."

Most of his surgeries have come after the end of the season.

"He's had a zillion MRIs," Conlin's mother, Kathy, said. "I think they know him by name at Montefiore [Hospital].

"We laugh about it around here as being a Christmas tradition -- we have Christmas and then New Year's and then we go to Montefiore."

The worst time came after Conlin had surgery for the third time on his right shoulder. It was December 1999.

"I was in the hospital and I felt OK," he said. "And then some nurse came by and said, 'Your shoulder isn't sitting right in your sling.' So she just grabbed my arm and kind of jerked it. From then on, I was just in blinding pain."

The car ride home to Greensburg with his mother was excruciating and got worse with every turn or bump in the road.

"We had to drive all the way from Montefiore back to Greensburg, about an hour," Conlin said. "I was begging her to go through red lights and begging her to go faster. I was dying."

Kathy Conlin knew her son was in agony.

"Joey's never one to fuss over pain," she said. "He has a high pain tolerance. So, when he was fussing on the way home, I knew he was really in pain. We called the hospital back that night and told them he was in this horrible pain. They told him to up one of his medications."

The Panthers have been patient with Conlin. He rarely has taken part in spring practices, and sometimes he has been held back in training camp. Even during the season, he often wears an orange vest over his jersey to remind his teammates to take it easy on him so he can be as healthy as possible for games.

"After the surgery when he had all that pain, the coaches were very solicitous, and they called a lot of times," Kathy Conlin said. "Coach Harris must have called him six times."

Conlin's family has let him know he doesn't have to keep coming back. He could have walked away from football after any of his operations.

"We ask him, 'Joe, do you really wants to do this?' He says he does," Kathy Conlin said. "Joe's always very good-natured kid. Real easygoing. He suffers in silence."

Conlin said while it's no fun to have all those injuries, he wouldn't dream of quitting, and Pitt has made sure he still has a place in the lineup when he is able to fill it.

"They've been great about that," he said. "They've done everything they can to rehab me after the season.

"It's a pain to do rehab for an hour after practice, but I get to play a game that everybody wants to play, to do what every little kid in America wants to do."

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