Swann, Lynn 1952–
Lynn Swann 1952–
Former professional football player
Lynn Swann wowed football fans and players alike with his ballet-like ability to the catch a pass for the Pittsburgh Steelers. His inception into the upper echelon of the NFL was solidified with an Most Valuable Player performance in Super Bowl X, thus making him a household name. His grace and ability on the football field led to numerous Super Bowl and Steeler team records. However, it was his continual career planning that kept Swann in the limelight. Possessing a keen understanding that there was “life after football,” Swann took time during his playing days to plan what would become a successful career in broadcasting.
Born March 7, 1952, in Alcoa, Tennessee, Swann began his stellar football career in college. He attended the University of Southern California where he was an All-American. He was drafted in the first round (21st overall) by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He spent all nine of his NFL seasons in Pittsburgh, racking up numerous club records.
After two years with the Steelers, Swann had the season of a lifetime, culminating in one of the most memorable Super Bowl performances in football history. Super Bowl X had seen three lead changes entering the fourth quarter. With the Steelers leading by only five points late in the fourth and final quarter, the game was clearly anyone’s to win. With 4:25 remaining and the ball on their own 36 yard line, Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw faded back and fired a shot to Swann, who, in one of the most dramatic and unforgettable catches in NFL history, quickly converted it to a 64-yard touchdown reception. The NFL website described the catch as “juggling, tumbling…one of the Super Bowl’s greatest plays. Stumbling over a defender, Swann was horizontal, parallel with the field in midair when he caught the pass.” The Steelers held off Dallas for the 21-17 win. Swann was named Most Valuable Player for pulling down four receptions for 161 yards and the touchdown.
Swann’s presence in the game, though essential for the win, was not without danger. Swann had experienced a serious concussion two weeks before and doctors were leery of letting him play. They had warned him that another blow to the head could cause permanent damage. In just two years since joining the Steelers, Swann’s career was in jeopardy.
For Swann, the decision to play was fueled by the remarks of an opponent. According to the First Down website, when Dallas defensive back Cliff Harris “questioned Swann’s courage, the receiver made the decision to play.” Swann stated that such a challenge could not be ignored and, in fact, made him stronger throughout the game. “I read what Harris said,” Swann told First Down. “He was trying to intimidate me. He said I’d be afraid out there. He couldn’t scare me. Sure, I thought about the possibility of being reinjured. But it’s like being thrown from a horse. You have to get up and ride again immediately or you may be scared for the rest of your life.” During the game, Swann never felt he was in danger of injury.” I never had a day in my
At a Glance…
Born March 7, 1952 in Alcoa, Tennessee; married; children:Education: University of Southern California.
Career: University of Southern California, All-American wide receiver; Pittsburgh Steeiers, played nine seasons before retiring in 1982; ABC, commentator for “Monday Night Football,”“Wild World of Sports/’ 1984 Summer Olympics, 1988 Winter Olympics, 1976-; CourtTV, special guest commentator, 2000.
Awards: Super Bowl X, Most Valuable Player, 1976, named to NFL All-Pro Team, 1975, 1977, 1978; NFL record for most yards gained on punt returns for a rookie(577); four Super Bowl records and four Steeiers records; National Football Foundation’s College Hall of Fame, inductee, 1993; Walter Camp Football Foundation, Man of the Year Award, 1997; National Football League Hall of Fame, inductee, 2001.
Addresses: c/o ABC Sports, 47 W. 66th St., New York, NY 10023
life when I felt so loose, “he told First Down.” Nobody hit me to hurt me. They just hit me hard enough to make me get up and make another catch.”
This would not be Swann’s only Super Bowl performance, but it certainly was the most memorable. Swann went on to play in two more championship games as a Steeler. In Super Bowl XI11, a loss to Dallas, Swann caught seven passes for 124 yards. In Super Bowl XIV, Pittsburgh beat the Rams with Swann adding five catches for 79 yards.
It was Swann’s athleticism and grace that led to his startling performances. His style of receiving was not only unparalleled, but recognized as uniquely effective by teammates and media alike. Normally, a wide receiver might have to leap to make a catch, but such a feat is rarely cause for fanfare. Swann, however, turned catching into a production. Like a ballet dancer, he could leap, hang in the air, twist, contort, and somehow come down with the ball. He had to do it this way, for he was only 5 feet 11 inches tall.
Swann’s career numbers put him in elite company. Recognizing this, the NFL Hall of Fame included Swann in 2001. After nine years of service to the Steeiers, Swann’s stats could not be compromised. His career totals included 364 receiving yards in four games and 336 receptions for 5, 462 yards and 51 touchdowns, Additionally, he was named All-Pro in 1975, 1977, and 1987, and was voted to the Pro Bowl after each of those seasons.
In a Swann bio appearing at www.stillers.com, former teammate “Mean” Joe Greene said Swann’s legacy was nearly untouchable. “Lynn Swann didn’t have the stats, but he sure as heck made an impact,” Greene said on the website. “No one made a bigger impact. It’s like Gale Sayers. He didn’t play a long time, but he made an impact. Lym Swann had that impact. He played a lot of big games. I’m a great Lynn Swann fan.”
In a February 17, 1999 Internet chat with Swann at theTime website, Swann fielded a number of question asking if players of his generation had a positive racial impact on the game. With a bit of humility and accuracy, Swann deferred the credit. While Swann’s acrobatics somewhat changed the way defenses covered receivers, he pointed to those before him as the true pioneers. “Not my generation,” he answered. “I believe it occurred in the early sixties. There are African-American players from small colleges, all the way to the large college, who came into the league and changed the way to the game was played.”
The subject of African-American coaches—or a lack thereof—was present even at the end of the 2000 season. At that time, of 31 pro teams in the NFL, only four of them were led by African-American head coaches. Swann adciressed this issue duringTimes Internet chat, observing that, while opportunities abounded for African Americans as players, there was still “the misconception that we couldn’t be the quarterback or middle linebacker because we weren’t smart enough…We need to get over the issues of color and focus clearly on talent and work ethic.” Swann continued, “I feel like there should be more black head coaches. There certainly are qualified candidates. Very often we see coaches who have not been successful being recycled, instead of looking for a new face or a new name who has demonstrated the ability to handle the job.”
Some players wait until it is too late to pursue a career outside of football. Sometimes declining performance or career-ending injury suddenly thrusts them into a different line of work. While still a wide receiver for the Steeiers, Swann began exploring his broadcasting opportunities in the mid-1970s.
His early football commentator experience came with the now-defunct Un ted States Football League from 1983 to 1985. He also covered the 1984 Winter Olympics in Los Angeles and the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. Swann continued to pay his broadcasting dues covering a variety of events including: the English Rugby League final, the Harlem Globetrotters, and the Iditarod dog sled race from Alaska.
While many have failed to make the transition from player to commentator, Swann learned from watching others around him fail. Swann observed, as he toldJet magazine, that “There are those with great communication talents, the guys like John Madden, who have unique personalities that can be transmitted over the air. Then there are the athletes who trained and prepared for this work by spending time in broadcasting while they were active players.” He also learned that having a memorable name in sports can only help one in the pursuit of a broadcasting career, but that name recognition should not be substituted for hard work. He toldJet, “When you are a commentator, it is important to have a name that will draw the focus to you, but what you do once that attention is focused is what matters.”
In addition to his family and broadcastingcareer, Swann has filled his time with charitable works. He has sat on the national Board of Directors for the Big Brother and Big Sisters of America since 1980. Also, he is the force behind a youth scholarship program for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater School.
Jet, July 30, 1984, pg. 49.
Sports Illustrated, Jan. 16, 1984.
Additional material was found online at: http://www.angelfire.com; http://www.stillers.com/stillfaith; the Time magazine website, http://www.time.com; the NFL Hall of Fame website, http://www.profootball-hof.com;
American football player
Blessed with incredible speed and an ability to catch the football with leaps almost ballet-like in gracefulness, wide receiver Lynn Swann also had an impeccable sense of timing. He joined the Pittsburgh Steelers just as the team embarked on its most spectacular winning streak in history. Swann, an All-American at USC, was the Steelers' No. 1 draft pick in the 1974 draft, and he wasted no time in proving that he had what it took to make it in the NFL. During his rookie season, he led the league in punt returns with 577 yards on 41 returns, which was, at that time, a club record and the fourth best in NFL history. The following season he became a regular at wide receiver, which was to be his home for the rest of his NFL career. And what a career it was. During his nine seasons with the Steelers, Swann amassed a total of 336 receptions for 5,462 yards and 51 touchdowns. With Swann's help, the Steelers chalked up four Super Bowl victories in the wide receiver's first six years with the team. At the time of his retirement after the 1982 season, Swann's combined total of 364 receiving yards in four games ranked first in Super Bowl history.
Born in Alcoa, Tennessee
He was born Lynn Curtis Swann in Alcoa, Tennessee, on March 7, 1952. The third of three boys, Swann first demonstrated his amazing physical ability by walking at the age of 7 months. His mother, disappointed at not having a daughter, persuaded Swann to take dance lessons, which he took to naturally and at which he excelled. Years later, he told Runner's World :"People think football and dancing are so different. They think it's contradictory for a boy to dance, but dancing is a sport." Those dancing lessons were to come in handy later in Swann's football career. The Swann family moved from eastern Tennessee to San Mateo, California,
where he attended Serra High School. A member of his high school's track team, Swann competed in both the pole vault and the long jump, in which event he won the California High School State Championship with a jump of 25 feet, 4 inches. His football career really began at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where Swann enrolled in the fall of 1970 to study public relations.
In his senior year at USC, Swann was a unanimous choice for the college All-American team, further enhancing his desirability to the pro teams. In the 1974 NFL draft, Swann was the Pittsburgh Steelers' first-round pick and the 21st player overall to be selected. During his rookie season with the Steelers, Swann led the league in punt returns with 577 yards on 41 returns, a club record and the fourth best in NFL history. Late in the season, he saw limited action as a wide receiver. However, his touchdown catch in the AFC championship game against the Oakland Raiders cinched the game for the Steelers and laid the groundwork for the rest of Swann's career in the NFL.
Having displayed his talents as a wide receiver late in his rookie year, Swann became a regular in that job his second year with the Steelers. For the 1975 season as a whole, he compiled an impressive record of 49 catches for a total of 781 yards and a league-high 11 touchdowns. Swann ended the Steelers' post-season in a blaze of glory, helping to power Pittsburgh to a 21-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl X. Swann's contributions included four receptions for 161 yards (a Super Bowl record at the time), including an amazing 64-yard catch and run that produced the winning touchdown. He was named Most Valuable Player for Super Bowl X.
A major factor in the success of the Steelers during this period was the teaming of Swann with fellow wide receiver John Stallworth, also drafted in 1974. With the combination of Stallworth and Swann at wide receiver, quarterback Terry Bradshaw had a choice of targets, and opponents couldn't focus all their defensive attention on just one player. Wide receivers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann competed with one another to be quarterback Terry Bradshaw's number one target. In the process, they made each other better players but remained somewhat cool on a personal level. All that changed after both men had left pro football. When Swann was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001, he asked that Stall-worth present him. To boost his former teammate's candidacy for the Hall of Fame, Swann in his acceptance speech said: "I don't think I could be in the Hall of Fame unless there was a John Stallworth. The competition between John and me, the things that we made each other do in terms of working and getting ready, I knew I always had to be ready." Stallworth followed Swann into the Hall of Fame in 2002.
The high point of Swann's pro football career came during the regular season of 1978 when he caught 61 passes for a total of 880 yards and 11 touchdowns. In Super Bowl XIII in January 1979, Swann caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Bradshaw that cinched the Steelers' 35-31 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Swann's game-winning contribution was particularly impressive since he had not been expected to play at all because of a head injury suffered in the Steelers' AFC championship victory over the Oakland Raiders. In the 1979 season, Swann caught 41 passes for a total of 808 yards and five touchdowns, fueling the Steelers' drive to the playoffs. In Super Bowl XIV, as the Steelers faced off against the Los Angeles Rams, the wide receiver grabbed five passes for a total of 79 yards and a touchdown, powering Pittsburgh past the Rams by a score of 31-19.
|PIT: Pittsburgh Steelers.|
|1952||Born in Alcoa, Tennessee, on March 7|
|1970||Graduates from Serra High School in San Mateo, California|
|1970-74||Attends University of Southern California to study public relations|
|1974||Drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers|
|1975, 1978-79||Leads Steelers to Super Bowl|
|1982||Retires from professional football|
|1983-85||Provides commentary for ABC Sports coverage of U.S. Football League|
|1984||Covers Summer Olympics in Los Angeles for ABC Sports|
|1988||Covers Winter Olympics in Calgary for ABC Sports|
|1988-91||Hosts ABC's coverage of Iditarod dog sled races in Alaska|
During the 1980 regular season, Swann caught 44 passes for 710 yards and seven touchdowns. The following year he snared 34 passes for 505 yards and five touchdowns. His totals dropped significantly in the strike-shortened regular season of 1982, when Swann caught 18 passes for a total of 265 yards. Long before he retired from the Steelers, Swann had begun laying the groundwork for a life after professional football, beginning to work whenever possible as a commentator for ABC Sports. When he finally left the game after the 1982 season, he moved effortlessly into a full-time broadcasting career in a working atmosphere he already knew intimately. In one of his first big jobs for ABC after leaving football, Swann provided expert commentary in the network's coverage of the United States Football League from 1983 to 1985. During the summer of 1984 he covered the weightlifting coverage at the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, and four years later, provided commentary for the bobsled competition at the Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta. Swann has also appeared frequently on ABC's Wide World of Sports covering a wide variety of sporting events. Swann lives with wife Charena and two sons in the Pittsburgh area.
Although Swann has made a new life for himself away from professional football, his heart and mind are never far from the game. An avid Steelers fan, he follows the fortunes of his former team closely. Recalling the incomparable thrill of playing in the Super Bowl, he once told an interviewer for Runner's World : "Having 70,000 people in the stands cheering for you like demons for three hours during the Super Bowl, and knowing that millions are watching you on TV worldwide, is not an experience that can be simulated."
Awards and Accomplishments
|1970||Wins California High School State Championship in long jump|
|1973||Named to All-American College Team|
|1974||Leads NFL in punt returns with 577 yards on 41 returns|
|1974||Named to NFL's All-Rookie Team|
|1975, 1977, 1979||Named to NFL's All-Pro Team|
|1976||Named Super Bowl's Most Valuable Player|
|1978||Named NFL Man of the Year|
|1993||Elected to College Football Hall of Fame|
|1997||Receives Walter Camp Football Foundation Man of the Year Award|
|2001||Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame|
|2002||Inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame|
Address: Lynn Swann, c/o ABC Sports, 47 W. 66th St., New York, NY 10023.
"John (ny) Lee Stallworth." Almanac of Famous People, 6th ed. Detroit: Gale Group, 1998.
"Lynn Swann." Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 28. Detroit, MI: Gale Group, 2002.
"Lynn Swann." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, five volumes. Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 2000.
Averbuch, Gloria. "Swann's Song." Runner's World (October 3, 1993): 44.
Robinson, Alan. "Teammates Together in Hall of Fame." AP Online (July 31, 2002).
"Inductees: Lynn Swann." Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame. http://www.bashof.org/Lswann.htm (November 6, 2002).
"Lynn Swann, Sideline Reporter." ABC Sports. http://espn.go.com/abcsports/columns/swann_lynn/bio.html (November 2, 2002).
"Lynn Swann: Wide Receiver." Football-Reference.com. http://www.football-reference.com/players/SwanLy00.htm (November 2, 2002).
"Lynn Swann, WR-1974-82." Pro Football Hall of Fame. http://www.profootballhof.com/players/mainpage.cfm?cont_id=45252 (November 6, 2002).
Sketch by Don Amerman