It was announced yesterday that Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward will be the recipient of this year’s Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year Award, which he will receive at the 84th Annual Dapper Dan Dinner & Sports Auction to be held a month from now, on February 10. James Conner was the recipient of the award a year ago.
“I don’t know if I am even deserving of it”, the veteran told the team’s website upon learning of the news. “I have seen the list of past winners. I am still comprehending what it means. I am honored. There were so many greats, whether it was Jerome Bettis, Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, or Ryan Shazier. There are a lot of deserving people who aren’t just great players but are also great people. It’s an honor to be considered with them”.
The Dapper Dan Award is not simply given to a Steeler every year, of course. I do find it slightly amusing that Heyward left Antonio Brown off his list, who received the award in 2015. Perhaps they regret that at this point, given the events of the past year.
During the 2019 season, Heyward had arguably the best year of his career, finishing with an impressive 83 tackles, including 11 for a loss, with nine sacks, 22 quarterback hits, a forced fumble and recovery, and six passes defensed. He had a pass defensed in the season finale that was intercepted by Joe Haden.
In addition to having a very successful season statistically, the nine-year veteran was also voted into the Pro Bowl, and earned first-team All-Pro honors. It was his third consecutive Pro Bowl nomination (second outright), as well as his second appearance on the first-team All-Pro list.
It should go without saying that Heyward has deep Pittsburgh connections. His father was Craig Heyward, known as Ironhead, to this day will one of the most beloved athletes to emerge out of Pitt, though he never played for the Steelers.
It seemed to be fated when the Steelers selected Ironhead’s son with the 31st pick in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. It’s easy to make the claim that he has lived up to his father’s legacy in every conceivable way, demonstrating high performance, effort, and character both on and off the field.
When he was first drafted, he was thrust into a deep locker room full of veterans, who nurtured him along, particularly the defensive linemen like Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel. In many ways, he has matched and exceeded their prior example, even if his teams have not had the same sort of success. I can’t think of a more deserving person for this award, despite Heyward’s contrary protestations.