Lynn Swann


1977 media guide photoTo steal one of Al McGuire's pet phrases, it has been all seashells and balloons for Lynn Swann. (Ed’s note: McGuire was the highly successful coach of the Marquette University basketball team from 1964 to 1977).

At least it has seemed that way on the playing fields.

If you'd picture Lynn Swann's football career as a montage of photos, there would seem to be nothing but highlights.

Click. There is Lynn Swann in the Rose Bowl.
Click. There is Lynn Swann in the Rose Bowl again.
Click. There is Lynn Swann on a national championship team.
Click. There is Lynn Swann on the All-America team.
Click. There is Lynn Swann as a first-round draft choice.
Click. There is Lynn Swann in the Super Bowl as a rookie.
Click. There is Lynn Swann as the Super Bowl MVP in his second season.

It seemingly is endless. It goes on and on. It has been the kind of career that went out of style with Frank Merriwell (ed’s note: Merriwell was a fictional creation who excelled at football, baseball, basketball, crew and track). He has always been in the limelight. And he seems to enjoy it. He's bright, articulate, glib and always seems to know the right thing to say.

But what you see isn't always what you get. And Lynn Swann feels the Lynn Swann the public sees isn't the real one.

"People think I'm very flamboyant, confident with a great deal of ego," he admits. "But that's not entirely true."

It may ' not be entirely false, either. He certainly isn't the shy, retiring type. But there is another Lynn Swann besides the one everyone sees on the television screen.

"As far as sports are concerned, I've been very successful," he says. "But in my personal life, things have been more normal. I've had the usual ups and downs."

It's easy to picture Lynn Swann as the 25-year-old bachelor who's out on the town every night living the good life.

"People see me showing enthusiasm and excitement on the field, jumping up in the air in the opener. And they see me driving in a Mercedes and they know I'm single with no responsibilities and they figure my life must be full of all great, exciting things," he says. And he candidly admits, "I won't deny I enjoy excitement."

1977 Pro! magazine photoIt may not be so easy for people to picture Lynn Swann the poet. But he does spend some nights at home just listening to records and writing poetry. It's a rare look at another side of Lynn Swann. The one the public never sees.

"I don't write the rhyming, rhythmic kind of poetry, he says. "I write when I can relate it to my experiences and my feelings. I just do it when I feel I can express my feelings. When it strikes me, I do it."

Several years ago, he was given a diary by a girl friend from his high school days. That's where he writes his poetry. "In the years when you look back, you'll see the inner workings of Lynn Swann," she told him. The book is a very private part of his life. "Only one or two people have read parts of it and nobody has read the whole thing," he says.

For a man who has spent a lifetime in the limelight, he prizes his privacy. "It's not a good thing when a lot of people know all about you," he says. "It makes you vulnerable. It takes away your privacy. If you meet a young lady, you ask her to tell you something about herself. Then she says, tell me about you. You tell her something and she says, 'oh, I know that. I read it in the paper.' "

But Swann's exploits on the athletic fields are an open book. It is that Lynn Swann that people know best and he dates much of his success to a "classic case of sibling rivalry."

He obviously came from a goal-oriented family in San Mateo, California. where he grew up.

His oldest brother, Dr. Brian Swann, is the director of a dental clinic and his other brother, William Calvin Swann, is getting his certificate to teach handicapped children.

His father, who is a custodian, and his mother, a former dental assistant who now works in a high school attendance office, obviously set high goals. "My grades came fairly easy and when I came home with three A's and two B's, they wanted to know about those B's," he says.

It was his brother Calvin, just a year older, who set his athletic goals. Calvin was sick for a year as a youngster so they went through school in the same grade. "Playing with Calvin, I was always smaller and younger than the other kids," he says. "Any game had to be a mental one. I had to outsmart and outquick the other kids and take advantage of mistakes. That worked out well in basketball."

1977 Pro! magazineSwann played football, basketball and track at Serra High School in San Mateo. It is an all-male Catholic school where Jim Fregosi held the long jump record until Swann broke it. John Robinson, the current Southern California coach, is another graduate. Swann went there on an academic scholarship although he wasn't too thrilled about it. "My mother made me go," he says. He wasn't too wild about the all-male part. He liked going to school with girls.

He was a wide receiver in his sophomore and junior years and then was switched to quarterback in his senior year. On the field in all the sports, he had the time of his life.

Off the field, it wasn't always that way. He was one of nine blacks in the school of 900 in his senior year. He had some good experiences. He met his best friend, Tom McBreen, there. He even introduced McBreen to the girl he married. "Call me a matchmaker," he says.

But not all of the experiences were so pleasant.

"I learned a great deal," he says. "I learned very young the games people play." When he was president of the school's Lettermen Society, he staged the group's annual dance. It was always a success in past years. But the year he ran it, only about 15 couples showed up. "That was my second slap in the face," he says.

The first one came when he ran for the position of judge - sort of a sergeant-at-arms - at the school. He was unopposed until the last day when another youngster suddenly entered and beat him. "I heard a lot of people talking after the election. I had even been in some of their homes. But they had voted for the other guy. It was like, 'let the black guy play football.' "

But Swann put that all behind him.

It wasn't long before the college recruiters were after him. He visited Notre Dame where Ara Parseghian talked about making him a quarter back. But Swann didn't think he had the arm for that. His first love was UCLA. Alas, they didn't recruit him. "I fell in love with their campus," he says. But when they didn't give him a tumble, he decided on their cross-town rival USC.

He set a school career record of 95 receptions and played in two Rose Bowls and on a national championship team. When the pro football draft came along, he hoped a West Coast team would grab him. It's one of those ironies in life that he thought Oakland might select him. "I figured they were going to have to replace Fred Biletnikoff eventually," he says.

1977 advert from Pro! magazine for a lovely carBut Oakland took offensive tackle Henry Lawrence as the 19th choice on the first round. The Steelers chose two picks later and grabbed Swann. "My first thought was that I was another SC guy who didn't stay on the West Coast," Swann said. "O. J. (Simpson) went to Buffalo, Mike Garrett to Kansas City, Ron Yary to Minnesota, Pete Adams to Cleveland Sam Cunningham to New England and the list goes on and on."

About the only thing Swann knew about the Steelers was that "they had a guy named Franco. And I wondered how cold it would be."

Steeler fans know the rest of the tale quite well. After splitting time with Ron Shanklin as a rookie, he became a full-fledged star in his second year. The Super Bowl MVP capped it all.

Then came the George Atkinson forearm in the first game of 1976. "That was my biggest downer in sports," he says. But he now looks back at all the turmoil, even the trial, as a positive experience. He thinks he was right to speak out on the issue.

"I know a lot of people say this is a man's game and you shouldn't complain. But I never play to prove my manhood. If I'd let this go, I would have missed an opportunity to contribute something important. If it hadn't been for all this attention, I don't think Mel Morgan would have gotten a second look. I think the results in the long term analysis were very good for pro sports."

For a long time, it wasn't very good for Swann. Besides the concussion, he later suffered a sprained toe last year. It wasn't until the second Cincinnati game when he caught five passes in that snowstorm that he was finally back to his old form.

This season he has picked right up where he was at the end of last year. He surpassed his 1976 total of 28 receptions by catching 29 in the first seven games. After eight games, he has 32 catches which is third in the AFC behind Clark Gaines (36) and Dave Casper (35) and is the best of all NFL wide receivers.

The horizons seem endless now. But Swann says he's not the type who will play for about 10 or 15 years. He says eight years should be "about right.” He then will pursue business and broadcasting opportunities.

He says he won't play long enough to set all-time records. But he wants to leave his mark. "I'd love for Pittsburgh to become a modern dynasty like Green Bay used to be," he said. "I'd like to be MVP one year or every year."

And then he'd simply like to be the best of the best. "When people say who's the best around, they say O. J. The best football player. That's a goal."

That's quite a goal. But Swann has attained a lot of goals.

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