The end of each year brings award season and none handed out in the region are more prestigious than the Dapper Dan Charities Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year Award.
The awards annually go to the male and female athlete, coach or team that bring the most recognition to Western Pennsylvania and is voted on by fans as well as Dapper Dan's executive committee. The list of former winners reads like a who's who of Pittsburgh's greatest athletes. And looking at this year's nominees on both sides, there are going to be some big names honored regardless of who ultimately gets the most votes.
The nominees for the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year are Pitt defensive lineman Aaron Donald, Pirates All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen, Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, Steelers tight end Heath Miller, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Penn State coach Bill O'Brien.
WNBA and former McKeesport standout Swin Cash headlines the group of nominees for Dapper Dan Sportswoman of the Year and she is joined by Olympic volleyball player Christa Harmotto, Olympic diver Cassidy Krug and Penn State soccer player Taylor Schram.
The nominees all have distinguished themselves in some way in 2012 and have excelled at their chosen sport.
Donald, who is from Penn Hills, may have been the best defensive lineman in the Big East Conference and was a first team all-conference selection for the second consecutive season. He led the Big East in tackles for losses (18.5) and also registered 63 total tackles and 5.5 sacks.
The Pirates captivated fans and were the talk of baseball by contending into August. A big reason for that was the play of McCutchen, who led the National League with 194 hits and finished second in the batting race with a .327 average.
He also made the National League All-Star team, won a Gold Glove, finished third in MVP balloting and hit 31 home runs, drove in 96 runs and scored 107 runs.
Malkin was an NHL All-Star and won the Hart Memorial Trophy (NHL MVP) as well as the Art Ross Trophy (leading scorer) as he scored 50 goals and registered 59 assists for a total 109 points last season. He also had nine game-winning goals and registered a league-high 339 shots on goal.
Miller is known as one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL and has been throughout his career, but this season he has added another dimension to his game as he is the Steelers leading receiver. He has caught 61 passes, seven for touchdowns, and he is the Steelers all-time leader in receptions by a tight end with 398.
Penn State's program was in shambles a year ago and into this year in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the firing and subsequent death of legendary coach Joe Paterno and the NCAA bringing the hammer down on the program in the form of harsh sanctions.
But O'Brien proved to be the perfect man to navigate the program and university through the choppy waters and bring dignity, respect and character back in less than a year.
The Nittany Lions, despite losing more than a dozen players to transfers, defied odds and finished the season 8-4 and went 6-2 in the Big Ten Conference -- and that includes a dramatic season-ending win against Rose Bowl-bound Wisconsin.
Roethlisberger has missed three games due to injury, but has thrown for 20 touchdowns and more than 2,500 yards and has only been intercepted five times. He has completed 231 of 358 passes (65 percent).
Cash won her third gold medal this year at the Olympic Games in London as a member of the U.S. women's basketball team and averaged 10.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game for the Chicago Sky of the WNBA.
A Hopewell and Penn State graduate, Harmotto helped Team USA win a silver medal at the Olympic Games and started all eight matches for the team as the middle blocker. She also helped Team USA win a gold medal at the FIVB World Grand Prix and is currently a pro in Italy.
Krug, who is from Montour, is yet another local athlete who starred at the Olympic Games as she advanced to the final of the women's 3-meter springboard diving competition and was in contention for a medal until her final dive, but finished seventh.
Schram, who is from Canon-McMillan, led Penn State's women's soccer team to a 21-4-2 mark and a trip to the national championship game. The Lady Lions fell to North Carolina, 4-1, in the national title game, but Schram scored the team's lone goal.
She also played for Team USA's Under-20 team and helped that team win the World Cup.
The featured winners, along with a number of others, such as retired Steelers great Hines Ward, will honored at the 77th Annual Dapper Dan Dinner & Sports Auction, presented by BNY Mellon Feb. 6 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
Tickets for the event can be purchased by visiting www.post-gazette.com/dapperdan or by calling 412-263-3850. Prices are $150 for general seats and $250 for premium seats. Tables of 10 can be reserved for $1,500 and premium tables of 10 can be reserved for $2,500.
A cocktail reception and silent auction begins at 6 p.m., followed by the dinner and awards ceremony at 7 p.m. Proceeds benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania youth and sports education programs.
Past winners of the sportsman of the year award include Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and center Sidney Crosby, Malkin and the late Paterno, while past sportswoman of the year winners include Duquesne coach Suzie McConnell-Serio, Pitt women's basketball coach Agnus Berenato, the Penn State women's volleyball team and Cash.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @paulzeise.