Despite the fact that the Steelers selected Franco Harris out of Penn State in the first round of the 1972 draft, Harris spent a good portion of his rookie year without owning a car. As it turned out, his career provided him all the transportation he would need.
Harris opted against wheels of his own when a group of kids stopped him as he walked to the stadium one day, wondering where his Cadillac was. "That really upset me that those kids thought that the first thing I would do was go out and buy a car," he said.
He stayed car-less, taking the bus and hitchhiking. But he won a car that year, after his 1,055 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns earned him The Associated Press offensive rookie of the year award. He won another as Super Bowl MVP and one more when the NFL named him the Walter Peyton Man of the Year.
For those achievements and the rest of his illustrious career, Harris was honored with the Dapper Dan Lifetime Achievement Award at the 78th Annual Dapper Dan Dinner and Sports Auction Thursday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
"Tonight is really a night for me to say thank you," Harris said.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was honored as Sportsman of the Year, and Pittsburgh Marathon CEO Patrice Matamoros was named Sportswoman of the Year. Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg won the Dr. Freddie Fu Sports Leadership Award.
Harris, a Steelers running back from 1972-83 who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990, was named to nine consecutive Pro Bowls from 1972-80. He was a first-team All-Pro in 1977, when he rushed for 1,162 yards and 11 touchdowns. He won four Super Bowls with the Steelers in the 1970s and 1980s, and his 34 carries for 158 yards and a touchdown earned him the Super Bowl IX MVP.
Former Steelers defensive tackle Joe Greene, who introduced Harris, spoke of the change in the franchise's fortunes after Harris was drafted. He singled out Harris' 75-yard touchdown run in a preseason game in Atlanta as early proof.
"Nobody caught him," Greene said. "Except for me running along the sideline, saying, 'We got one, we got one, we got a player.' "
In Hurdle's third year as manager, the Pirates won 94 games, breaking a streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons, and returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1992. They defeated the Cincinnati Reds in the wild-card playoff game before losing a five-game National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
"We're very thankful for all of you that stayed in the hunt with us and battled through the hard times, because we had a whole lot of fun last summer and I'm glad you had a whole lot of fun with us," Hurdle said.
Pirates closer Jason Grilli introduced Hurdle and told the story of their introduction, in 2008 in Colorado when Hurdle managed the Rockies. After exchanging pleasantries, Hurdle asked Grilli, "What do you want out of your career?"
"No manager's ever asked me that before, let alone listened," Grilli said.
Matamoros oversaw the Pittsburgh Marathon May 5, a few weeks after two bombs detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon killed three and injured more than 250. The Pittsburgh Marathon, the first major American race after Boston, went off without a hitch.
Matamoros also helped bring the marathon back to the city in 2009 after a five-year break.
"Imagine bringing an event like this into the city of champions," Matamoros said. "It's really quite daunting."
Matamoros grew up in Montana, where she said she trained on cow trails alongside her pet turkey, Frank. An injury ended her competitive running career, but she jumped at the chance to re-enter the field.
"When I was offered this opportunity to come back into running, it was a new and different way, and I was excited to take on the challenge," she said.
Nordenberg, Pitt chancellor since 1995, oversaw the university's move from the Big East to the ACC, which brings a reported $17 million in television revenue. Under Nordenberg, Pitt constructed Petersen Events Center, home of the basketball team, and the football team began play at Heinz Field when it opened in 2001.
Nordenberg credited the Steelers' ownership group with making the relationship work.
"There are a lot of universities in this country that have tried to develop the sort of partnership that Pitt has with the Steelers," he said. "No one has been successful and there's an easy, simple reason for that. Nobody else is dealing with the people that have the character of Dan and Art Rooney."
Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon, who introduced Nordenberg, told the story of his interview for the position, over lunch at a restaurant on Bourbon Street at the Final Four. Dixon, then 36, reminded Nordenberg how Pitt had taken a chance on him by making him dean of the law school at 36. He also told Nordenberg he would never embarrass the university because he knew how deeply Nordenberg cared for it.
"I saw his passion for the city and I saw his leadership and I did not want to let him down," Dixon said. "The chancellor has inspired me in that way every day."
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrinkPG.