Dan Bylsma was not just in his first season as Penguins coach, but in his first season as a head coach anywhere, when he felt he had to pull goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in a game in Washington just a few games into his tenure in February 2009.
"I had never pulled an NHL goalie, much less Marc-Andre Fleury," Bylsma said Monday night at the 76th annual Dapper Dan Dinner and Sports Auction at David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Bylsma and Fleury shared the Sportsmen of the Year award.
After that game, Bylsma walked tentatively past his goalie.
"Marc-Andre Fleury steps in front of me, and I was thinking to myself, 'What the heck is he going to say? How is this going to go?'
"He looked me in the eye and said, 'Coach, I'm terribly sorry. It's never going to happen again.' He promised me he was going to stop the next puck. He's always going to stop the next puck. He's wrong sometimes but [in his mind] he's always going to stop the next puck."
Pitt and NFL playing/coaching great Mike Ditka was presented with a lifetime achievement award and spent most of his speech recounting how fortunate he has been and spreading around a few shout-outs.
He said when Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry called to offer him an assistant's job, he had never thought about coaching.
"It's the best decision I ever made," Ditka said. "Not only did he teach me the game of football; he taught me the game of life."
Ditka made special mention of Hopewell running back and Pitt recruit Rushel Shell, who was on the dais, reading off his statistics and accomplishments. He also looked over at the new Pitt football coach and said, "To Paul Chryst: Good luck. Kick some [rear], will you?"
Penguins center Jordan Staal, in introducing Fleury and Bylsma, said he was more nervous than Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup final, but it was Fleury who was a bundle of nerves for the days, hours and minutes leading up to the dinner. Staal had some advice. He told Fleury to picture everyone in the room -- some 900 people -- with no clothes on. Staal obviously didn't go further by asking Fleury not to repeat that to those 900 people.
In addition to a silent auction of sports memorabilia, several items were auctioned during the event with the hope of raising about $300,000 for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania. The final item, a painting by local artist Tom Mosser of Fleury's last-second save on Nicklas Lidstrom in the Penguins' 2-1 Game 7 2009 Cup win, fetched the highest price, $5,000. Fleury revealed the buyer, his agent, Allan Walsh, who was in the audience.
Teresa Conn, co-owner of the Pittsburgh Passion, which received the Sportswomen of the Year award, recalled the night her women's football team won the 2007 national championship in Nashville, Tenn. She got a call from legendary Steelers running back Franco Harris at midnight -- a call apparently with immaculate reception.
Harris recently came on as a team co-owner, but at that time didn't have a relationship with the Passion. He had grown to become a fan and helped fete the team when it returned from that championship game because he like the team of go-getter women.
"They're great moms," said Conn, formerly a player on the team. "They're great at a lot of things that they do. They never, ever make excuses. They're solution people."
Bylsma recalled walking across the ice toward the locker room at Mellon Arena after his first home game as Penguins coach, a 5-4 victory against Montreal, when he heard this from the crowd.
"You haven't done nothing until you beat Philadelphia."
After Post-Gazette executive editor David Shribman had some fun with the spelling of Freddie Fu's last name during his introduction, the innovative UPMC surgeon specializing in arthroscopic knee surgery talked about advances in sports medicine. Fu, who was given the special Sports Leadership award, recalled the early 1990s when promising Pitt running back Curtis Martin, an Allderdice graduate, had an ankle injury. Fu helped Martin get an MRI, something new then, and it revealed an injury severe enough to end his season. Fu pointed out that letting the ankle heal properly helped Martin go on to an NFL career that culminated in his recent election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"We've all heard the expression, 'Keep your eyes on the ball," Fu said. "In sports medicine, we keep our eyes on the patient."
First Published March 13, 2012 4:00 AM