You’ve probably already heard the story about how former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann was five seconds away from being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the 1974 NFL Draft. If not, the NFL Network did an excellent job of telling that story during the Wednesday night episode of ‘Caught in the Draft’.
As the story goes, there was an internal debate within the Steelers organization leading up to the 21st overall selection of that draft as then head coach Chuck Noll wanted to draft Alabama A&M wide receiver John Stallworth in the first round. Being as Stallworth played at a small black school and wasn’t heavily scouted, Noll was finally convinced to take Swann, who was well-known being as he was an All-American at USC.
Here is the narration of the final seconds leading up to the Steelers selection of Swann from a clip of the show that you watch below.
As the Steelers internal debate continued, it appeared their discord on selecting a big school or small school receiver might cause Pittsburgh’s selection time to expire, thus giving the Cowboys the chance to jump in front of them in line. Dallas prepared accordingly, filling out an index card with the player it wanted and racing to the podium. Had only a few more seconds passed, Dallas would have taken the 20th pick before Pittsburgh could. Instead, after 14 minutes and 55 seconds of their 15 minute selection time, the Steelers made a decision.
The rest is history as the Steelers selected Swann.
Gil Brandt, who was the Cowboys vice president of player personnel from 1960-89, confirmed this story just a few years ago.
“I told him, ‘You take that card up and soon as that clock goes to zero you turn it in,’ ” Brandt said in a 2010 interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
As for Dallas, they wound up selecting North Carolina State running back Charley Young with the 22nd overall pick. Young played only three seasons in a reserve role with Dallas, until suffering a career ending knee injury in 1976. For his career, Young rushed for 638 yards and two touchdowns on 131 carries.
Swann of course would go on to become the MVP of Super Bowl X, the first of two Super Bowl victories against the Cowboys in the 70’s. In those two Super Bowls, Swann had a total of 11 catches for 258 yards and two touchdowns.
As for Stallworth, the Steelers decided to pass on him in round two of that draft as well as they selected Kent State linebacker Jack Lambert with the 46th overall pick instead. They really must have had confidence that Stallworth would continue to slide as they didn’t have a third-round pick that year because they had traded it and a sixth-round pick away the previous August to the Oakland Raiders for tackle Glen Ray Hines.
The Steelers finally drafted Stallworth with the fourth pick of the fourth-round and that 82nd overall selection in that draft came courtesy of trade with the New England Patriots the previous September that included defensive back Ralph Anderson, the team’s fifth-round selection (126th overall) of the 1971 NFL Draft being shipped out of Pittsburgh.
Swann, Lambert and Stallworth of course all went on to become Hall of Famers as did center Mike Webster, who was also selected in that same draft in the fifth-round with the 125th overall selection.
It’s scary to think about how NFL history might have been altered had the Steelers waited five more seconds. Can you imagine Swann in a Cowboys uniform? Also, what if the steelers never would have traded Anderson to the Patriots? Would Stallworth had lasted 19 more picks so the Steelers could take him with the 100th overall selection?