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Class of 2002
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Saturday, August 3, 2002
Stallworth, Swann together again
PITTSBURGH -- Lynn Swann waited through 14 appearances on the Pro Football Hall of Fame ballot before being elected. Even when he finally made it last year, he couldn't celebrate fully.
John Stallworth wasn't there with him.
Swann and Stallworth. Stallworth and Swann. Can't have one without the other. Drafted together in 1974, they spent nine Pittsburgh Steelers seasons competing with each other, pushing each other, making each other better, trying to be Terry Bradshaw's No. 1 target, winning four Super Bowls.
Now, 20 years after going their separate ways -- Swann to become a TV announcer, Stallworth to finish off a career that lasted until 1987, then to launch a successful aerospace company that now employs 650 -- they are teammates again.
This time in the Hall of Fame, where Stallworth will be inducted Saturday. Swann went in last year.
"They should have been in there a long time ago," said Chuck Noll, their former Steelers coach.
Stallworth and Swann were one of the most productive receiving tandems ever, but some Hall of Fame selection committee members said it was evident they kept each other out of Canton for years. One couldn't get in because the other always seemed to take votes away.
But once Swann made it, Stallworth's chances increased significantly. Swann helped out by asking Stallworth to be his Hall of Fame presenter, thus giving Stallworth a share of the stage that Swann thought his former teammate deserved for himself.
"I wish it would have happened sooner," Stallworth said. "But I always had a feeling it would happen. To be elected was an affirmation of everything I tried to accomplish in my career. This tells me I went about it the right way."
Swann and Stallworth weren't always so chummy. There was competition between them as soon as they arrived at training camp in 1974. Swann was the celebrated first-round draft pick from high-profile Southern California, Stallworth the lesser-known fourth-rounder from the virtually unknown Alabama A&M.
Fast fact: Noll was so enamored with Stallworth, and so worried another team would draft him, that he wanted him in the first round. But player personnel chief Art Rooney Jr. and scout Bill Nunn talked him out of it, convinced Stallworth would slide to a later round.
The same thing occurred in the second round: Noll again wanted Stallworth, the scouts wanted Kent State linebacker Jack Lambert. The scouts won again. The Steelers didn't have a third-rounder, but Stallworth, remarkably, was still there for them on the fourth round.
The result was the greatest draft class in NFL history, with four Hall of Famers in the first five rounds, including fifth-rounder Mike Webster.
It didn't take long for the Class of '74 to make an impact. The Steelers won the Super Bowl in the 1974, 1975, 1978 and 1979 seasons, an unprecedented run of four titles in six years.
While Swann is often remembered for being more acrobatic and making more spectacular catches, Stallworth was greatly responsible for the Steelers' last two Super Bowl triumphs.
In their 35-31 victory over Dallas in January 1979, Stallworth made three catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns. A year later in a 31-19 victory over the Rams, he made a game-winning 73-yard scoring catch early in the fourth quarter, and his 45-yard reception later in the quarter set up the clinching touchdown. Stallworth's 40.3 yards-per-catch average that day remains a Super Bowl record.
Of course, it helped Stallworth that nearly every practice was like playing in the Pro Bowl. He is the ninth player from those Steelers Super Bowl teams to reach the Hall of Fame.
"Every day we matched up one-on-one and every day he made me a little better and, I'd like to think, I made him a little better, too," Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount said. "That's why I'm the happiest man in the world to see John Stallworth get into the Hall of Fame."
Stallworth, a four-time Pro Bowl receiver and two-time Steelers MVP, still holds nearly every meaningful team receiving record, including career receptions (537, or 179 more than runner-up Louis Lipps), yardage (8,723) and touchdowns (63, 12 more than Swann).
He is the only receiver in NFL history to make a touchdown catch in eight consecutive postseason games.
"I was never flashy. I never spiked the ball," the 49-year-old Stallworth said. "But this tells me there's a place for that, and I'm very excited this is happening."
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