Olympic gold medalist Amanda Polk accepts the Sportswoman of the Year Award at the 81st Dapper Dan Awards and sports auction for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center Downtown.
Rocky Bleier, right, accepts the Lifetime Achievement Award after bring introduced by his son, Adri, at the 81st Dapper Dan Awards and sports auction for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center Downtown.
Mel Blount accepts the Dr. Freddie Fu Sports Leadership Award at the 81st Dapper Dan Awards and sports auction for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center Downtown.
Penguins General Manager, Jim Rutherford, gives a speech after being named co-winner of the Sportsman of the Year Award with Penguins coach, Mike Sullivan, at the 81st Dapper Dan Awards and sports auction for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center Downtown.
Penguins coach, Mike Sullivan, gives a speech after being named co-winner of the Sportsman of the Year Award with Penguins General Manager, Jim Rutherford, at the 81st Dapper Dan Awards and sports auction for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center Downtown.
By Brian Batko / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It was one of those championship years for Pittsburgh in 2016, and in accordance, it was a championship type of evening Wednesday night at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
Eight Super Bowl rings with the Steelers. Two Stanley Cups with the Penguins. An Olympic gold medal in the name of Pittsburgh and the United States, just to top it all off. And that was only the night’s honorees.
“We’ve got to be the most fortunate sports fans in America,” boomed Bill Hillgrove, master of ceremonies.
Indeed, it was quite a reminder of that for Pittsburghers at the 81st Dapper Dan Dinner & Sports Auction. Not so surprising when honoring Rocky Bleier with the Lifetime Achievement Award and fellow Steelers legend Mel Blount with the Dr. Freddie Fu Sports Leadership Award.
And then there were Co-Sportsmen of the Year Jim Rutherford and Mike Sullivan, the duo who most recently brought a championship to this proud sports city by leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup last year. Not to mention Sportswoman of the Year Amanda Polk, a Bloomfield native who won gold in Rio de Janeiro at the 2016 Games with the U.S. women’s rowing team.
Bleier was the toast of the town in attendance, a crowd that gave him a lengthy standing ovation to applaud not only his 11 seasons as a Steeler but also the hiatus he took from that career while serving in the Vietnam War.
“My first thought was Lifetime Achievement Award?” Bleier said in a consistently humorous, often self-deprecating acceptance speech. “Have they been talking to my doctor? Do they know something I don’t know that they’re going to give me this award?”
Reminiscent of his one-man show “The Play” that made its rounds at O’Reilly Theater late last year and into 2017, Bleier harkened back to his playing days — “I finally got an award that Terry Bradshaw or Lynn Swann hasn’t gotten … yet,” he quipped — and his Army days, when wounds sustained in battle threatened the very football livelihood he worked so hard for.
“What did I achieve? Maybe it’s nothing more than keeping a commitment made in a rice paddy in Vietnam, or raising those four wonderful kids, or finding that one special person you get to annoy for the rest of their life,” said Bleier, who was thrilled to be presented with his award by his son Adri. “Whatever it may be, whatever the committee saw fit, I accept this award with great humility and thank you all for being here to be a part of it.”
Before Bleier’s remarks wound down the proceedings, it was a time to celebrate the triumphs last summer of the Co-Sportsmen and Sportswoman of the Year. Rutherford and Sullivan, general manager and coach, thanked Penguins fans and each other for being part of their memorable Stanley Cup run culminating in June.
“When I think about our team, it represents a lot of what I observe about our city,” Sullivan said. “When I think about our team, I think about a team with a competitive spirit. … My experience living in Pittsburgh for the last year-plus, that’s what I witness every day when I go to the grocery store or restaurant or other sporting events. In a lot of ways, they represent you.”
Two months and a day from the moment the Penguins hoisted their silver, Polk herself took home some gold.
Polk, an Oakland Catholic High School graduate, accepted the honor with her Olympic medal draped around her neck, drawing cheers when Hillgrove introduced her as “the pride and joy of Bloomfield.” She spoke of the ups and downs of her journey from Olympic alternate to world champion as her mother, JoAnn, choked up on the video screen.
“Dreams do come true,” Polk said, proudly raising her gold medal. “Thank you, Pittsburgh.”
The first major award of the event went to Blount, renowned for his longstanding work with the Mel Blount Youth Leadership Initiative. A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his exploits as a Steelers cornerback, Blount also was presented with his honor by one of his sons, Akil, a linebacker recently signed to the Steelers offseason roster.
“It’s been a tremendous journey, and we’ve been able to impact a lot of young people,” Blount said, in his “small-town country boy” twang, clad in his “infamous cowboy hat,” as his son put it.
Primarily, the charitable proceeds of the Dapper Dan Dinner and Sports Auction are donated to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania.
Brian Batko: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrianBatko.
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