Phil McConkey still views himself as a skinny kid from Buffalo’s West Side with something to prove.
The 56-year-old became a Super Bowl champion with the New York Giants, but he’s still head over heels for his first love: the Buffalo Bills.
In many ways, the City of Buffalo remains as much a part of McConkey as it was when he was a student at Canisius High School. Now, he’s a part of Buffalo history.
Thursday afternoon, McConkey offered remarks on behalf of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013 as it was introduced in the New Era building downtown. Eight living Buffalo sports legends will be immortalized in the Hall this year, and five will be inducted posthumously.
“There’s something about where we came from,” McConkey, who played six seasons in the NFL, told the audience. “What Buffalo and Western New York give all of us is tremendous resiliency, tremendous will to succeed, to overcome obstacles and overcome odds.”
The other living honorees: Pam Amabile, a one-time softball star at Erie Community College; Dick Diminuco, an accomplished high school football coach at Albion and Alden, who now coaches at SUNY Brockport; Fred Hartrick, former Buffalo State athletic director; Art Jeziorski, a prominent area bowler for five decades; Todd Marchant, who played 17 seasons in the NHL; Milt Northrop, who has covered sports for The Buffalo News since 1967; and Jennifer Suhr, an Olympic gold medalist pole vaulter.
The five posthumous inductees entering the Pride of Western New York: General Bass, a youth tennis coach and two-sport star at Hutch-Tech; Ed Don George, a three-time World Heavyweight wrestling champion; Herbert J. Mols, a pioneer of the Empire State Games; Walter Plekan, regarded as an all-time handball great; and Frank Pytlak, who played catcher for 12 years for the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox.
Northrop was surprised he was even considered.
“I’ve always maintained in general that the Hall of Fame should be for athletes – the guys who train, put it all out on the line in front of the public, win or lose – and the coaches,” said Northrop, who joins an elite class of media members in the Hall that includes Larry Felser and Van Miller. “Here I am, I’m a media person, and it’s a great honor.”
Following the ceremony, Diminuco was thinking about Christmastime. He said it’s his favorite part of coaching because that’s when all his former athletes come back to town and he has them over for dinner. That, the new Brockport State quarterbacks coach said, far surpasses winning.
Diminuco described being inducted as “a thrill” – something Amabile echoed.
“It’s the pinnacle of my career,” she said. “To achieve the highest honor, to be thought of and be recognized with Olympians and professional athletes, for something that you love to do, what could be better than that? I can’t think of anything. It’s a great thrill.”
With the addition of its 23rd class, the Hall’s membership total is now 267. The Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place in October or November on a date to be determined at the Hyatt Regency.
McConkey is accustomed to the warm weather of San Diego, so when he looked outside his window Thursday and saw a torrential downpour, he figured a few people would make it to the ceremony. He smiled as he scanned the packed room of 50-plus and commented on the city’s toughness:
“I will be Buffalo for the rest of my life,” he said of his hometown mentality.