TAMPA, Fla. — He was, to put it quite simply, poetry in motion.
With amazing body control, the stride of a thoroughbred and extraordinary jumping ability, Lynn Swann embodied the definition of a wide receiver as we knew it in the days before high-powered passing attacks took over pro football. One of a cavalcade of stars on the Pittsburgh Steelers when they won four Super Bowls in the course of six seasons from 1974-79, Swann made his mark on an offense that often favored the run and included great running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. Even though he retired prematurely in 1982 after playing nine seasons and suffering a number of concussions, Swann’s resume stacks up well against his peers from his playing days. Only one achievement remains for the ABC television analyst, who at the age of 48, looks like he could still suit up — a bust at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
In an exclusive interview with The Japan Times, old No. 88 from the Steelers tried not to get his hopes up as he awaits another chance to join seven of his Pittsburgh teammates in football immortality. He has been passed over by the Pro Football Writers of America selection board — who will vote Saturday to determine this year’s inductees — several times.
“I have not, since Day One, given that aspect of it (making the Hall of Fame) a whole lot of thought,” Swann said Wednesday. “It would kind of be like jumping the gun. I’ve been nominated several times, and to try and think about what it would mean to go in, I guess I just have more experience of what it feels like not going in.”
More than anything else, the Super Bowl X Most Valuable Player was a winner.
Swann was an All-American receiver at the University of Southern California, where he played on a national championship team in 1972 that won the Rose Bowl. He departed as the school’s all-time receptions leader after playing three seasons for the Trojans. As a senior at Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif., Swann was an All-American quarterback who also starred on the track, where he was the state champion in the 110-yard high hurdles.
Swann, a first-round pick of the Steelers in 1974, believes that there is no definitive standard for admission to the Hall of Fame.
“I think it’s not something that is clearly defined as someone who fits a statistical category or someone’s contribution to the game or where the game was played or the impact on important ballgames. Certainly all those things can be a factor, but in many instances, one will outweigh the other. “There is no one criterion or one set of rules that says, ‘This is what we decide a Hall of Famer is.’ “
Having missed out on election before, Swann, a three-time All-Pro selection, remains philosophical about what would be a crowning achievement.
“It would mean a great deal to me. But the full impact of that, I think that is a thought process reserved for those few who have actually been selected. Those who have not, who have come close, I don’t think we allow ourselves to think or truly understand or feel all it could mean to us or might mean to us, because we have not crossed that threshold.” Swann, who scored 51 regular-season touchdowns in his career and another nine in the postseason, says there has been a vast change in the game for receivers since he played. “There is a great deal of difference. A lot of it has to do with the rules and how the game is played. The willingness of teams today to throw the ball more. Even with the aerial assaults that you see today, you still have teams like the Giants and Ravens, who rely heavily on a running attack, who do not put the ball in the air in a large percentage of their offensive game plan.” The key to victory as Swann saw it during his time, was to envision winning and then execute it.
“As an athlete, whether we were the underdogs or whether we were favored, my mindset was always that you had to respect your opponent and you had to go into the ballgame believing you could win and have an idea of how you would win. Every team, every great athlete, every competitor, especially in the Super Bowl, has to be of that mindset.” For one of the great winners of all time, Swann’s toughest victory — gaining entrance to Canton — may be the one he cherishes most.