Buffalo native Phil McConkey was announced as a 2013 inductee into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame Thursday. Although his playing career never ran through Buffalo, McConkey’s Western New York roots have made the Super Bowl champion a Bills fan for life.
“I’m still a Bills fan,” said McConkey. “I’m 56 years old and I watch all the games and my hand still shakes when I watch. It was my first love and your first love never leaves you.”
McConkey attended Canisius High School where he played wide receiver and graduated in 1975. From there McConkey went on to the United States Naval Academy where he caught 56 passes for 1,028 yards and 10 touchdowns and added two rushing touchdowns and one touchdown via punt return.
McConkey went on to serve five years of active duty as a Naval Aviator and a Nuclear Weapons Transshipment Pilot, but three years into his service McConkey knew he could not shake the football bug and he was hopeful he could fulfill his dream with his hometown team.
“My whole life I wanted to be a Buffalo Bill,” said McConkey. “In fact, I went to the Naval Academy, I’m looking at five years of active duty, and I decided about three years into this commitment I was going to get out and try pro football, so I desperately wanted to be with the Bills. I wrote a letter to Norm Pollom, who was the head of player personnel at the time I think, begging him for a tryout.”
In 1984 while McConkey tried to create an opportunity with the Bills another one sprung up with the New York Giants. McConkey jumped at the chance to link up with a professional team, but he still held out hope that something could be worked out with the Bills.
“Steve Belichick was an assistant at Navy, he called his son Bill (former Giants defensive coordinator and current Patriots head coach) and Bill Parcells was head coach and they gave me a tryout,” explained McConkey. “I went to rookie minicamp and I hadn’t signed a contract yet to go to training camp because I was waiting on the Bills and I hadn’t heard anything.”
Decision time finally came when Parcells approached the 27-year-old rookie between practices.
“Parcells came up to me between practices and said ‘hey I’ll throw in an extra thousand dollars on your signing bonus’ and I go ‘done’,” said McConkey.
McConkey reflects on his early days as a Bills fan with a childhood joy that likely matches that of his young self.
“I remember what got me off the sports pages as an eight or nine-year-old was reading about the new stadium that was going to be built in Buffalo in Lancaster and it was a domed stadium,” recalled McConkey. “When they proposed the site in Orchard Park I had my father drive me out there to look at the dirt where they were going to build the stadium. I was actually in the stadium for the first play. It was a preseason game against the Washington Redskins and Herb Mul-Key took the kickoff back against the Bills 102 yards for a touchdown.”
The highlight of McConkey’s NFL career came in Super Bowl XXI when the Giants beat the Denver Broncos 39-20. McConkey returned a punt 25 yards to set up a field goal, and on the next drive he caught 44-yard toss on a flea flicker to set up a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, McConkey himself found the end zone on a six-yard pass that was tipped by Giants tight end Mark Bavaro.
McConkey’s six-year journey in the NFL would also take him to Green Bay, Phoenix, and San Diego, but his heart has always been in and will remain with his home city and his home team.
“I am diehard Buffalo.”