Gold Jacket Spotlight: Lynn Swann had a ‘flair for showmanship’
As Paul Good wrote in January 1978 in “Sport” magazine, Lynn Swann brought a “flair for the spectacular” to professional football.
Lynn’s style and panache weren’t limited to on-court pursuits, and her talents are the subject of this week’s Gold Jacket Spotlight.
Trained in dance as a youth, Lynn merged those experiences with her keen football sense to play collegiately at the University of Southern California and nine seasons in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Swann is perhaps the most aptly named player in the game,” wrote Vito Stellino, sports journalist and former Hall of Fame manager. “It’s just a swan. He almost struts across the field as he takes grateful steps. It’s a classic stud dance, a man who dazzles the crowd with his eye-catching moves.
Prior to the 1974 NFL Draft, USC coach John McKay described Lynn as follows: “This guy here is one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever had. He has incredible jumping ability and he has the ability to make the big plays at the big time.
Steelers receivers coach Lionel Taylor’s pre-draft assessment was more direct. “The only thing I know about Swann is this: that bitch opens up and grabs the soccer ball.”
USC coach John Robinson once told USC rookie Ronnie Lott, “Lynn would go anywhere on the court here to catch a ball. If you want to be like Lynn, you not only need desire, but also a competitive spirit.
The 1974 NFL Draft included five future Pro Football Hall of Famers, and Pittsburgh selected four. Lynn was the Steelers’ first selection in this draft, followed by Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster. Undrafted free agent and future Pro Football Hall of Famer Donnie Shell was also signed in 1974.
Lynn developed a habit of winning, as Stellino noted, “Swann only played seven losing football games in an incredible four-year span starting with his freshman year in college and spanning his two first years in the pros.”
Lynn’s first two years with the Steelers included a pair of Super Bowl championships (Super Bowls IX and X). He was selected as the Super Bowl X MVP after gaining 161 yards via four receptions, including a 64-yard touchdown connection with quarterback Terry Bradshaw.
“For a guy who’s had the great success he’s had in a short time,” Steelers receivers coach Tom Moore said, “he’s always working on things to get better. That’s his finest quality.”
Lynn considered retiring from football after his first two seasons, expressing concerns about the violence of the game and pointing a blow to the head by the Raiders’ George Atkinson. He played seven more seasons for the Steelers, however, before officially retiring after the 1982 season.
The Steelers also won Super Bowls XIII and XIV with Lynn on the roster, giving Pittsburgh four titles in six years.
“I would like to say that we developed Lynn Swann,” Steelers coach Chuck Noll said, “but the truth is he was perfectly developed as a football player the first time he stepped out on our field. training.”
Bum Phillips, coach of the Steelers’ division rival Houston Oilers, was more succinct, observing, “There’s no such thing as Lynn Swann dropping a pass.”
Lynn has repeatedly and successfully engaged in off-court community activities. These efforts were rewarded with the NFL Man of the Year Award in 1981.
Educational Television, Pittsburgh Ballet Theater and National Big Brothers and Sisters were among the groups Lynn helped. The dedication off the field prompted The Canton (Ohio) Repository to state, “Swann scores as high in his community efforts as he does on NFL playing fields.”
In a 1979 Sports Illustrated article, Lynn mentioned, “I always saw myself as set to music. His melodic efforts resulted in enlistment in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.