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Class of 2002
John Stallworth is happy to complete the Steelers' Hall of Fame representation.
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Sunday, August 18, 2002
Stallworth was Steelers' stalwart receiver
By Brandon M. Bickerstaff
Twenty-eight years since their rookie season, John Stallworth still remembers his first impression of his former teammate, Lynn Swann.
"My first memory of Lynn Swann was that we ran for the conditioning -- and he threw up afterward," Stallworth said. "Certainly, not a telling story as far as what he was gonna be like and his dedication to the game, but I saw him throw up and I was comforted by that."
When Swann was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame a year ago, there was no question in his mind about who would present him during the ceremonies. After a stellar career as a wide receiver with the Steelers, Swann knew that one teammate played an important part in his induction.
"I felt that I would not have been in the Hall of Fame if not for my teammates, in particular John Stallworth," Swann said.
This year, Swann finally gets to return the favor, presenting Stallworth to the crowd on hand in Canton, Ohio.
In his acceptance speech, Swann praised Stallworth's contributions to the game, and credited his former teammate with pushing him to play like a champion. It was perhaps that gesture that helped push Stallworth, eight times a finalist for Hall of Fame induction over the past 10 years, over the top in voters' minds.
With his induction, Stallworth joins three of his classmates of the Steelers' 1974 draft in Swann, linebacker Jack Lambert and center Mike Webster. He also becomes the ninth Steelers player who starred on the NFL's most dominating team of the late 1970s and early '80s to be enshrined in Canton.
"Sometimes people need to see the candidates in that form in order to have their memories refreshed," Swann said. "While Stallworth didn't need much help getting in, it helps to cross the T's and dot the I's, and even put an exclamation point at the end."
Stallworth and Swann had been competitors throughout most of their careers. The Steelers drafted Swann in the first round, then selected Stallworth in the fourth round. While Swann gained national attention starring for Southern California, Stallworth hadn't made much more than a blip on the radar, playing at Alabama A&M, a small, traditionally black college in Huntsville, Ala.
Besides watching him lose his lunch, Stallworth also got a glimpse of Swann's abilities and what he would be up against.
"I got a chance to see him run routes," Stallworth said. "I got a chance to see him catch the football. I did not have anyone coming out of Alabama A&M to pro ball to compare my talents with, but I got a chance to see Swann, and again, knew he was talented."
"Swann was more polished from the standpoint that he had the confidence coming in," he said. "That was something that I had to develop coming in."
In 14 seasons with the Steelers, Stallworth caught 537 passes for 8,723 yards and 63 touchdowns, all team records. Some of his most memorable catches came in big games, including a tide-turning, 73-yard touchdown that vaulted Pittsburgh to victory in Super Bowl XIV against the Los Angeles Rams.
Despite a handful of injuries that hampered him throughout his career, Stallworth showed resilience when he won the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year Award in 1984 after leading the AFC with a career-high 1,395 yards on 80 receptions.
In spite of the competition with each other, both Stallworth and Swann had to beat out the team's incumbent wide receivers before either could showcase their talents. But both earned starting spots by their second year, and the stage was set for the competition.
"The competition between the two of us got pretty intense," Stallworth said. "We were not thrown the football a whole lot. We both wanted the football, so we vied for (quarterback Terry) Bradshaw's attention.
"It wasn't that we disliked each other, but that competitive nature that he has and that I have, did not allow us to get very close. From a team standpoint, that was a good thing, because when he did something, I wanted to do something better and when I did something, he wanted to do something better," he said. "So in the long run I think it helped the Pittsburgh Steelers."
While Stallworth and Swann were rivals competing for the ball and big plays on the field, Stallworth contends that the two were far from enemies.
"I liked him a whole lot," Stallworth said. "We just couldn't get very close. You know, we tried at times to get close and we'd almost get there and then, something would happen, a game would come up, and we just couldn't get there.
"At this point in our relationship, having both retired and not being in an environment where we're competing on a day-to-day basis against each other, we're very close."
Though Swann's regurgitation stands out the most in Stallworth's mind, Swann said he can't think of one Stallworth memory that stands out the most in his mind.
"There is not one catch, or one moment that defines John Stallworth, but a number of things both on and off the field," Swann said. "The fact that among all the players on that team you can't find just one memorable moment underscores the level of success we had on that team. I can't think of just one moment. It would be futile for me to try."
Brandon M. Bickerstaff is an intern at ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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