Dapper Dan: Malkin, Sammartino, Penn State volleyball claim awards

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It was a hockey night in Pittsburgh. And volleyball night. And wrestling night. Plus a night represented by baseball and basketball. And, of course, a football night.

But most of all, with an assist from sports fans and corporate sponsors, the Dapper Dan Dinner & Sports Auction presented by BNY Mellon was a night for charity.

Sports champions come closest to being treated like royalty and/or movie stars in this town, which explains the Oscar-like feel to the spotlight introductions at Thursday night's annual event.

The honorees, past and present, perform in the arena, not on stage. So it made perfect sense then that the city's oldest and most prestigious sports awards were bestowed on a converted basketball court at Pitt's Petersen Events Center.

The first Dapper Dan dinner was held when the Steelers were just 3 years old. Thursday night, there were a few new wrinkles.

Consider the diversity of the honorees -- Bruno, Geno and the Nittany Lions -- from the Italian village of Pizzaferrato, the Russian steel town of Magnitogorsk and Happy Valley. Or, in other words, from the ring, the rink and the court.

In a town that believes that winners are made of hard work, March Madness also takes in the march of the Penguins. Evgeni "Geno" Malkin added sportsman of the year to credentials that include an NHL scoring title, MVP of the playoffs and the Stanley Cup. He gave his acceptance speech in English, and even when he stumbled at one point he was given an ovation.

"It's truly an honor to be the sportsman of the year in the city of champions," Malkin said.

Teammate Max Talbot, his roommate on the road, shared a secret about Malkin: He is a good cook and his best dish is pierogies.

Meanwhile, the handing off of that 35-pound hockey trophy from Mario Lemieux to Sidney Crosby was named the best sports moment of 2009, with Penguins general manager Ray Shero receiving the prize.

For the first time, the sportswoman of the year award became plural. The designation belongs the Penn State women's volleyball team, which won a national championship, the third in a row for the program.

Truth be told, having Lions in the lair of the Panthers may seem like the calico cat inviting the gingham dog to dinner. But this was a night of recognition, not rivalry.

The award for breakthrough athlete went to Pitt running back Dion Lewis. It was presented by Franco Harris, a Penn State alum who won the Dapper Dan man of the year award in 1977.

Bruno Sammartino, honored for lifetime achievement, got a standing ovation from the luminaries on the dais. But he also remains in big demand.

He was given a Steelers throwback No. 1 jersey with his name on it from general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin, last year's sportsman of the year. That makes him an honorary Steeler for life.

In addition, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma told him that he if he can skate the team can use him against the Flyers on Saturday.

"I keep pinching myself to make sure I'm not dreaming," Sammartino said. "I never expected any of this. I'm blown away."

Wrestling's Living Legend might have felt like he was back on Channel 11's "Studio Wrestling." It seem like everybody but Ringside Rosey was there: Bill Cardille, Jumping Johnny DeFazio, Dom DeNucci, Frank Durso, and former referee Andy "Kid" DePaul.

To round out the evening, the play of the year belonged to James Harrison for his 100-yard interception return in the Super Bowl.

Those who bought tickets to the dinner and sports auction got to rub shoulders with old-time favorites. Bob Friend and Dick Groat, members of a Pirates team that had a magical season 50 years ago, greeted old friends. So did Sean Gibson, great-grandson of baseball Hall of Famer Josh Gibson, and Sean Casey, a former major leaguer who now works for the MLB Network and has moved back to Upper St. Clair.

Proceeds of the event go to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania. And the sports dignitaries were happy to oblige.

"It's a privilege to be asked when it come time to help a charity," Sammartino said. "I'm happy to do my part."


Robert Dvorchak: bdvorchak@post-gazette.com . First Published March 26, 2010 4:00 AM


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