Hall Of Fame Has Some Catching Up to Do: Swann's Going In

Aug 2, 2001

By ALAN ROBINSON
AP Sports Writer

PITTSBURGH (AP) - It wasn't the sheer number of receptions Lynn Swann madethat put him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after more than a decade ofanxious and often frustrating waiting.

Rather, it was passes only he could catch that separated him from a handfulof receivers in the game's history.

Swann doesn't rank among the NFL's all-time top 20 receptions leaders - his336 catches aren't even one-third as many as Jerry Rice has made - and hiscareer lasted only nine years.

But when the big catches were needed in big games - in a run-orientedPittsburgh Steelers offense, during an era when defenders could bump-and-runreceivers all over the field - nobody made more than Swann. Or made them morespectacularly. Or made catches that were more wondrously photogenic.

His acrobatic, you-can't-possibly-make-those grabs in Super Bowls againstthe Cowboys and Rams remain a staple of NFL highlights reels and were aninspiration to a generation of young receivers.

'Jerry Rice came up to me once and said, 'Swannie, you were the guy,'said Swann, who says several other top receivers have told him the same thing.'That was good to hear.'

Almost as good as the words he finally heard Jan. 27, after 14 years ofusually being a Hall of Fame finalist but never quite making it. Finally, helearned he would join nine other Steelers from the dynasty days of the 1970s inthe Hall of Fame.

'I don't think I'll cry much Saturday, because I did enough crying thatday,' Swann said.

Swann's induction is a relief to former teammates such as Jack Ham, MelBlount and Franco Harris, all of whom worried the forces of quantity would ruleover those of quality when it came to debating Swann's Hall of Fame fate.

For years, voters were torn between Swann's not-too-spectacular numbersduring the regular season - he didn't even average three receptions per game -and his remarkable ability to dominate in big games.

'The mark of a good player is being able to play in big games, and nobodyplayed better in big games than Lynn Swann,' former Steelers coach Chuck Nollsaid. 'If we had thrown the ball more (during the season), he would have beenin the Hall of Fame a long time ago.'

To Swann, the numbers that truly represent his special gifts as a receiverwere IX, X, XIII and XIV - the four Super Bowls the Steelers won in six seasonsfrom 1974-79.

'Without Lynn Swann, the Steelers don't win four Super Bowls,' saidBlount, a Hall of Fame cornerback.

He was right. In the first Steelers-Cowboys Super Bowl, in January 1976,Swann's ballet classes - yes, ballet - paid off remarkably as he made two ofthe most famous catches in NFL history.

Swann's sprawling catch of a pass he tipped to himself while tumbling overcornerback Mark Washington may be the most replayed Super Bowl reception ever.

Before that, he made a juggling sidelines catch that Ham called 'the bestcatch I ever saw' - until Swann's next catch, that is. Swann also added a64-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter,

Remarkably, Swann was playing with the aftereffects of a concussionsustained two weeks before, the result of a blindside hit by the Raiders'George Atkinson in the AFC title game. No matter, Swann finished with fourcatches for 161 yards and the Super Bowl MVP award.

Three years later, in the Cowboys-Steelers Super Bowl rematch, he had sevencatches for 124 yards and a touchdown, then followed that up with five morecatches and a touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams in the next Super Bowl.

And it's not that Swann didn't have good regular seasons to go with hisreputation as postseason receiver nonpareil. When he wasn't bothered byconcussions and rib injuries, he had 11 touchdown catches each in 1975 and1978, and his ratio of one touchdown per 6.6 receptions is one of the best inNFL history.

'I take some pride that players like Cris Carter and Jerry Rice have saidthey watched me play when they were coming up and that they wanted to play thegame the way I played it,' said Swann, an ABC announcer since his retirementfollowing the strike-shortened 1982 season. 'That gives me a great deal ofsatisfaction.'

Not as much as Saturday will.

'It was difficult waiting those 14 years, but maybe it will make meappreciate it more to be in the Hall of Fame,' Swann said.

Career Highlights:
Wide Receiver . . . 1974-1982 Pittsburgh Steelers . . . Nine seasons, 115games . . . No. 1 draft pick (21st overall), 1974 . . . Used primarily onpunt returns as rookie, saw limited action as wide receiver . . . Became aregular wide receiver his second season and responded with 49 catches for781 yards and league-high 11 touchdowns . . . Finished season by winning MVPhonors in Super Bowl X with superlative 161 yards gained on four receptions. . . Included was a 64-yard game-winning catch . . . Career record: 336receptions for 5,462 yards, 51 touchdowns . . . 364 career reception yardsranked first in Super Bowl record book when he retired . . . Had 41 puntreturns for 577 yards,1 touchdown and 14.1-yard average as rookie . . .Scored 318 points on 53 touchdowns . . . All-Pro, 1975, 1977, 1978, All-AFCthree times . . . In three Pro Bowls.

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