Dec. 10, 1979
Dec. 10, 1979

Table of Contents
Dec. 10, 1979

Title Fights
Special Report
Gold And Gophers
College Basketball
College Football
Pro Football
Lynn Swann
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over


Whether Lynn Swann is catching passes or dressing up or ingratiating himself with Steeler teammates, he does it in style

Well, it certainly is a Barnum & Bailey world, and wouldn't you just know it, it turns out that the last romantic left on the face of the earth is working for a living in Pittsburgh, P-A. Or, the punch line for the movie version: Hey, I've got a great idea—Lynn Swann. That's something of an in joke you'll understand better as we go along. But for the present: Lynn Swann wears his own poetry inscribed in gold about his neck; he sends six dozen yellow roses when he falls in love and buys donuts for his teammates; he prefers white tie and tails if you are dressing, and champagne if you are drinking; he tap-dances his way into your heart, honeymoons in Paris and firmly subscribes to the old adage that it is the inalienable right of every American boy to grow up and play Robin Hood in the movies.

This is an article from the Dec. 10, 1979 issue Original Layout

Usually we live in our own times and dream of others. How strange that Swann is a child of olden days whose dreams focus on the savage reality all about him. He has, in fact, one recurring nightmare. When it begins, he is standing in the Bank of America branch on B Street in San Mateo, Calif., where he grew up. He glances up and sees that a menacing robot has just entered the bank. Everybody, Swann included, runs like hell out the back door. But the robot follows Swann and chases him into a store. There the robot turns into a gorilla. The robot-gorilla keeps changing back and forth and chasing after him as he weaves in and out of stores. He has this nightmare often.

An authority on dreams told Swann that the robot represents logic, the gorilla emotions, and that the two are competing with each other for control of his being. Sometimes, if Swann is with a person who knows about his nightmare and does something reflexively and naturally, Swann will smile and say, "That's the gorilla in me," which sounds very confusing. because we are hardly accustomed to gorillas standing for blithe images. Shouldn't the gorilla in the nightmare be the defensive backs and linebackers who pummel Swann, who supply him with concussions, who drove him to the brink of retirement when he was only 25?

You would think so. But Swann was never a sports fan, and perhaps his subconscious refuses to acknowledge that he has become an athlete, a pro football player, the very best at what he does, catching passes. It is mostly a fluke that he has become what he is. Swann is listed officially at 6 feet, 180 pounds, which is small enough, but, in fact, he is no more than 5'11" and weighs only 173. He wears high school-model shoulder pads. He has suffered three concussions, and he is known in the trade by the ugly cretins who play it brutally as a "paperhead." Which simply means that his skull crushes with ease—fair game.

Yet, in his sixth NFL season, age 27, there are almost no marks upon his ginger skin, and he appears nearly—if the word is fair—dainty. Encountering stylishness where you least expect it will give you that impression. Swann's face has the aspect of a cute Disney animal—a chipmunk, perhaps—with tiny ears, a coiffure carefully shaped so that every hair is in place, gleaming brown eyes, teeth so flawless that Swann cannot deny, though he's loath to admit it, that they must be largely a testament to the talent of some dental artist. His cheekbones are high, affirming the Cherokee blood that courses through him from both sides of his family, and directly below are, naturally, a pair of dimples, apt quotation marks for his happy, regularly employed mouth.

Even in Pittsburgh, where Swann is a demigod, his face as well recognized as his number 88, fans meeting him for the first time are invariably amazed at how petite he is. Of all the most popular Steelers—Bradshaw, the rugged bellwether; Harris, sturdy and reliable; Greene, Mean Joe; Ham and Lambert, the hard-nosed Jacks from next door; Bleier, the doughty veteran—little Swann is the one most esteemed for his courage. He goes over the middle. Those burghers who run into him about town will offer up the obligatory "nice game," but an inordinate number of them also feel a need to cite his bravery to his face: "I just want to shake your hand, sir"; "God bless you, Lynn"; "I admire you so"; "You're one helluva man, is all I have to say."

Although Swann is a black man in a city with a small black population, the citizenry identifies as much or more with him as with any of its heftier and lighter-skinned heroes. "Well, it's a workingman's town, the shot and a beer, all that," Swann says. "That's not me, but maybe they see me as one of them anyway, because I'm the little guy who goes over the middle."

Ah, once again: over the middle. There are certain itineraries we expect football players to follow. The quarterback, as every mother's son knows, drops back; the fullback bulls ahead; the defensive backs, we are advised, rotate, while linebackers are crablike beings, ever displaying the vaunted lateral speed. And the wide receiver is, of course, the creature of the down-and-out. We never visualize him as anything but his archtype, Raymond Berry: playing footsie with the boundaries, tapping toes down in sideline Morse code as he reaches out for the pigskin, high, wide and handsome. A wide receiver is down-and-out. The middle is left for stalwart tight ends—those gridiron half-breeds—and wandering blocking backs who moonlight at catching afterthought passes that are "dumped off."

But Swann works the middle. And despite being as insubstantial as he is and having only average-sized hands, he works it with rare proficiency. "There is no such thing as Lynn Swann dropping a pass," says Bum Phillips, the Houston coach. Many receivers, like Swann, may regularly be double-teamed, but such coverage is only something to be eluded; going over the middle means that it is all but impossible to catch passes and not be double-tackled. "The licks Lynn takes," says Sam Davis, Steeler guard, "sometimes he looks like a baton being twirled out there." Tom Moore, the Pittsburgh receiver coach, says, "I'm sure when Lynn goes over the middle that he doesn't let himself see any of the people there. Nobody has an edge on his heart."

Swann himself says, "I just can't ever think about being hurt. In the first game this season, I got hit low while I was jumping for a pass and I came down on my neck and shoulder, and just a little different...." He shrugs; he meant he could have been busted up, maybe paralyzed. "I probably get away with it because of all the little things I've done in my life besides football—ballet, tap, gymnastics, basketball, long-jumping. I'm able somehow to keep my body loose but my hands tight. I'm like the race cars at Indy that aren't built with solid frames anymore, so when they hit the wall, just a portion of the car crumbles. In one of the old rigid cars there would've been a shock through the whole machine. Me, I get my leg hit, I just let the leg fly. I remain limber, and somehow the impact seems to flow out of that leg. Now maybe somebody who knows the laws of physics will say that's all crazy, but it's my body and it works for me."

Swann has been timed in 4.5 for 40 yards. In high school, at 5'10", he could dunk a basketball, and he was the California long-jump champion, doing 25'2", before he relinquished Olympic aspirations to concentrate on football. He is able, then, to get to the ball and to climb in the air to take it high, away from taller men. He also has great powers of concentration. A gregarious, even voluble man, Swann never chitchats with the opposition, and only on the rarest of occasions will he approach Terry Bradshaw with a play suggestion. Out there he keeps to himself.

A wide receiver faces a dichotomy in his work, and for Swann, who adores—even milks—the spotlight, it's a painful one. On the one hand, the wide receiver is a dashing individualist, an athletic facsimile of all those Robin Hoods, buccaneers and gun-slingers that young Lynn saw himself as. The wide receiver's presence in the huddle is almost pro forma. Swann drops in, gets the play, and then ducks out to near the right sideline, where he sets up—stands up—by himself. To the other flank, the Steelers dispatch their other outstanding wide receiver, John Stallworth.

One defensive back aligns himself across from Stallworth, another from Swann. In the Senate, when a Senator of one mind feels it inconvenient to attend a vote, he will ask a colleague who disagrees with him to also skip it, thus "pairing" themselves—the yea vote of one in effect canceling out the nay of the other, though the official record will indicate neither Senator voted. Essentially, this is what happens in pro football, and most plays proceed nine vs. nine.

But while the wide receiver is this glamorous knight errant, he is, conversely, the most dependent figure in football, perhaps in all of sport. Independent? Why, the wide receiver is as independent as an orphan, fulfilled only when he becomes a ward of the quarterback—or the QB, as Swann always refers to his father figure.

Swann was himself a QB during his senior year in high school, and he was even offered a scholarship by Ara Parseghian, with the understanding that he would be given the opportunity to guide the Notre Dame offense. But Swann was not sure of his arm and felt that his fortune and fame lay more in catching passes. Through his junior year at Serra High in San Mateo, Swann had been the receiver for a QB named Jesse Freitas, who went on to nearby Stanford, though he would subsequently transfer to San Diego State. Now, a principal reason that Swann decided to attend Southern Cal was that he feared that if he went to Stanford and, as expected, Freitas was the QB, then no matter how many passes Swann caught, they would never be his; they would just be balls that Jesse Freitas threw for completions. Swann was a high school All-America as a receiver, but he had grave doubts about his ability. He never considered the pros until after his junior season at USC, when the Trojans won the 1972 national title.

For all Swann's success, all his All-Pro selections, his MVP in the '76 Super Bowl—and for all his good nature, too—it still gnaws at him that he plays a position in which he must always be cast as the back end of the horse. He is certainly not bashful. His manager, Marilyn O'Brien, calls him Ethel, after Ethel Merman, who has never been mistaken for a shrinking violet. "Lynn Swann loves to be onstage, believe me," says his wife, the former Bernadette Robi, who comes from an entertainment family and recognizes the type. So whatever his success between the sideline stripes, Swann is obsessed about making it off the field, visible as a single.

"As long as the QB is the star, I'll always be just another guy out there, and that hurts," Swann says. "Now this isn't whining. A wide receiver gets more attention than a lot of other positions. You take Mike Webster [the Steeler center]. He goes one-to-one against every noseguard and defensive tackle in the league, nobody gets past him, and most fans don't even know his name. And it isn't personal. Please. If anything, Bradshaw deserves even more credit, for all the abuse he's taken. But last year, when we won again, it wasn't just the Steelers. For the first time, it was Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers. And it jolted me back to reality. All of a sudden I realized that no matter how good a wide receiver you are, you're always going to be in the QB's shadow. It's just a fact."

And you don't like it?

"I never believe in settling for second best."

And you love the limelight?

"Look, I'm a ham." (Big, cute smile.) "If I could sing, I'd be dangerous." (Huge, cute smile.)

Footnote: Bradshaw is also a putative entertainer. He can sing, and not badly. And for something to do with his hands, he plays the guitar while he warbles. But if Swann cannot sing, he has been tap-dancing since the fourth grade, and he does it very well indeed.

Last March, Bradshaw and Swann went to Utah to tape a CBS special. The National Cheerleading Competition, which was co-hosted by an old QB named Joe Namath. The script called for Bradshaw and Namath to banter for a while, and then the two Steelers were to perform, Bradshaw strumming his guitar as backup to Swann's tapping. Swann was terrific. But when the show was telecast, Swann had been edited into a perfunctory role, and the bit was almost entirely Namath and Bradshaw joking, and Bradshaw playing the guitar, while his pal, the colored fellow, did a few steps in the background. Thus is it always with QBs and wide receivers.

Swann is not, of course, deprived, as we know it. For playing a second banana, he'll make about $170,000 this year, but because his subordinate position limits him so in football, his greater designs are on the world at large, coast-to-coast. He longs to become the first wide receiver to attain Namathiah, Simpsonian status, to become what he and Marilyn O'Brien always refer to as "a national spokesman." Lest conflict of interest endanger any lurking countrywide contract, Swann has already turned down a number of local endorsements for such varied merchandise as clothing, soft drinks, canned goods and tires.

It is a measure of Swann's equanimity, as well as of these more tolerant television times—not only of O.J., but of Reggie promoting candy bars and Bill Cosby spokesmanning for every product in Christendom not hawked by Ed McMahon—that he never even mentions the matter of his race being a deterrent to the household-wordness he desires. Still, the question is: Can a little black wide receiver from an old industrial city go where only backs have ever been?

In this campaign for fame, playing for the Steelers cuts two ways. On the one hand, the champions are so good that nobody, not even the QB, can attract all the attention. Swann himself is often employed more as an implied threat than one realized. His statistics last season—61 catches for 880 yards and 11 TDs—were outstanding and his best, but not the monster numbers that might accrue to a flanker of his talents on a lesser team that doesn't waste a lot of precious time laboring at trench warfare. Significantly, against playoff teams, when the Steelers can't be so bossy, they turn more to Swann. His playoff statistics are well above his regular-season figures, and his best game ever was the '76 Super Bowl.

The presence of the gifted Stallworth on the other wing specifically complicates the issue. They are friendly rivals, sure enough, but the emphasis is often on the latter word. On almost any other club, Stallworth would be the ballyhooed prime receiver. On the Steelers, he is to Swann what Swann is to Bradshaw. The two receivers arrived the same season, too—Swann the pussycat first-round draft choice from USC and the Rose Bowl, Stallworth a fourth-round pick from, uh, Alabama A&M. Swann always goes to the Pro Bowl, Stallworth goes home to Hunstsville. Yet this year, Swann has endured a freak injury—a bruised big left toe—and then a hamstring pull. He has missed a great deal of action, and he trails Stallworth in all receiving categories.

"How many did you catch yesterday?" Swann asked Stallworth after a game early this season. The correct answer was six, and had Stallworth wanted to be diplomatic, he would've feigned ignorance of such tacky minutiae. Instead, Stallworth took the opportunity to smile and reply, "Four more than you." And they both laughed, sort of.

Of course, the preeminence of the Steelers lends a luster to Swann's reputation that he could obtain nowhere else, even if he were setting individual records in a more chic metropolis. He has never wanted to play for any other team. Keep in mind that it takes a great deal to raise the ire of Lynn Curtis Swann. It is, then, especially revealing that the one thing that appears to have gotten stuck in Swann's craw is that the Dallas Cowboys, undisputed Super Bowl losers, have anointed themselves as "America's Team." Swann heard this on the P.A. when the Steelers played an exhibition in Dallas, and it irritated him so that he still brings it up regularly.

And certainly he is right to protest The Cowboys' supercilious claim. Even if Dallas were champion, the Cowboys are never perceived as a team, only as an organization. The Steelers, by contrast, are pretty much a collection of personalities who never enjoyed any real fame until they came to Pittsburgh. Swann is the rare Steeler to hail from a glamour campus. But his effervescent nature—"I'm actually envious of his personality," says Pittsburgh Safety Mike Wagner—has endeared him to his more unpretentious teammates. The hard-boiled veterans could not believe it when as a rookie Swann started bringing donuts for the whole damn team every Tuesday. Along with his toothy smile, Swann is also so brimming with quotations, slogans, lyrics, poetry (his own and otherwise) that more worldly observers suspect that he must be putting them on, that perhaps he has caught a touch of something from Steve Garvey. But Swann is so enthusiastic, gets so carried away, that he is literally incapable of recognizing his own exuberant self.

Most weeks during the season, the Steeler receivers meet for dinner, and in an effort to establish even more esprit de corps, they started playing an after-dinner game last year. Each man's name was written on a slip of paper, and they were deposited, folded, in a pile. In turn, each receiver would draw a slip and portray the colleague named. Stallworth once drew Swann. "It was easiest of all to play Lynn," Stallworth says. "All I had to do was to get bubbly and keep saying, 'Hey. I've got a great idea, I've got a great idea!' " Swann had no idea whom Stall-worth was acting out, although the other receivers all recognized him immediately and broke up.

Unlike so many other hotshot Sunbelt athletes, Swann has adjusted well to his new old-world America address. He makes no bones about preferring Los Angeles—"I like the diversity there, the greater challenges and opportunities it offers me"—but he accepts Pittsburgh for what it is, a real second home. In L.A., Swann drives a Porsche and lives in a condominium near the Pacific; in Pittsburgh, he drives a Jeep and lives in a house in the suburbs.

But now he was downtown, sitting at the edge of Point Park, his legs dangling just above the water at that precise spot where the Monongahela and the Allegheny flow together to form the Ohio. "Each year I look forward to coming back here more," he said. "They're good people, and they make me feel comfortable. In a certain way, I feel that Pittsburgh is more my home.

"It's a pretty place, isn't it?" He swept his arm toward the green backdrop of hills across the rivers from downtown. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh still suffers its shabby old mill image, but it is a solid place, built upon hills and neighborhoods, a heterosexual's San Francisco—for all its sloping topography, straight in most ways. In Pittsburgh, devotion is lavished not only on the game's executives and craftsmen—the QBs, runners and pass catchers—but also on its grubbier wage earners, notably the linebackers. In Pittsburgh you can buy T shirts commemorating the local linebackers.

But then, Pittsburgh has its factory heritage, and linebackers, after all, are the foremen of football. And, too, a football team is really quite like a factory, with each job category—interior linemen, defensive secondary, suicide squad—performing a task on the assembly line. "Football is so specialized that the players are never as close as teammates in other sports," Swann says. "Why, once the season starts, we're only on the road a night at a time a few times a year."

Anyway, in Pittsburgh, in the smelters and boardrooms alike, the Pirates have lost the town to the Steelers. One reason—it is whispered—is that the Pirates field too black a nine, lacking an attractive white star since Dick Groat two decades ago. With Bradshaw and the predominantly white linebackers, this does not seem to be a problem for the Steelers.

Swann himself is, as he declares, "just not race conscious," but he has not arrived at this estate by virtue of being what glib Fourth of July orators call "color blind." On the contrary, his evenhanded tolerance derives more from his having been abused by members of both races. Color blindness tends, just like color awareness, to reveal, at best, superficiality in the eye of the beholder. Swann seems to look a bit askance when ingratiating white strangers advertise their goodwill by laying a soul handshake on the famous brother. Having been wounded by "racial games" on both sides, Swann says he is inclined to pay less attention to races and more to persons.

He was born in the segregated South in the company town of Alcoa, Tenn., but Swann never encountered Jim Crow, because his father, Willie, an airplane maintenance worker, moved the family to the Bay Area when Lynn was two. The Swanns lived a typical lower-middle-class, upwardly mobile existence: they worked, studied and paid the rent. Mrs. Swann, Mildred, went to college and rose from domestic to dental assistant. Lynn's older brother, Brian, has become a dentist. Lynn, a Baptist, won an academic scholarship to Serra High, a Catholic school, where he was one of a handful of blacks. And there, for the first time, he got mousetrapped.

He discovered that a great many of the white classmates who were his bosom pals when he was starring in sports for dear old Serra had little use for him once the season was over. Even more perplexing, Swann found that many black friends wrote him off for going to a white school and for taking on what they considered to be white airs. Even as a young child, his own cousins taunted him for "speaking properly."

It is not, understand, that Swann doesn't talk like an average uneducated ghetto black. He doesn't even talk like an average allegedly educated suburban athlete. Never does a sentence begin with "O.K.," and he has so thoroughly exorcised "you know" from his speech that now it never appears, not even in the most offhand conversation. A great deal of Swann may be described as California Golden Universal—and race is no function of this persona, only style and outlook and eternal youth. If there are two athletes Swann most brings to mind, they would be Tom Seaver and Bruce Jenner, who share with him both orderliness and panache, which rarely go together in handsome young men.

But it is not always smooth for Swann. In the NFL, it has been the prize macho black toughs who have gone out of their way to bust up and bring down the fashionable kid who moves so effortlessly in the white world. And before that, at Southern Cal, where Swann says he "made a conscious effort to get some black racial identity back," he was castigated by many black students for his speech and for choosing to room with a white, Tom McBreen. A childhood friend, McBreen, now a doctor, was an Olympic swimmer who subsequently was Swann's best man. Swann also shares, in common with Bradshaw, Pete Rozelle, Donnie Osmond, Catfish Hunter and Senator John Warner, that most typical of all things American: a white mother-in-law. His father-in-law is Paul Robi, arranger and lead singer with the Platters.

"What am I supposed to do?" Swann says. "I just happen to feel comfortable wherever I go in the world. But it's hard to win. The American dream is to succeed, to move on to higher economic levels, but if you're black and you succeed, then you can be sure that some blacks will claim that you are turning your back on your black roots."

And worse yet, some whites.... On the night of Jan. 31, 1974, when Swann was celebrating his selection as the top Steeler draft choice, he was arrested and jailed by the San Francisco Police Department—largely, he feels, for committing the crime of being black. Charged with resisting arrest and battery, Swann was acquitted by a jury in July 1974. Swann—and his two brothers and a cousin, who were likewise charged—sued the city for $2 million for false arrest; the four policemen involved filed a countersuit against the Swanns and their cousin for $200,000 in damages. The case finally reached the courts last summer, and the three Swanns and their cousin ultimately received a total of $143,090. The policemen were awarded a total of $15,000.

Just as Swann cannot understand why the arresting officers, as Swann reportedly claimed in court, destroyed a college All-Star wristwatch and rapped him repeatedly about the knees with nightsticks when they learned he was a football player, so he is genuinely baffled by the casual brutality in his sport. When in 1976 he publicly protested against what he characterizes as "intentional acts of violence," many in football came down on him not only for being a sissy but also for breaking the unwritten code that gentlemen of the gridiron should always settle up like jungle animals. Defensive Back George Atkinson of the Raiders, who twice gave Swann concussions, derided him as "gutless."

The second Atkinson hit, the one that led Steeler Coach Chuck Noll to refer to Atkinson as part of a "criminal element" in football, very nearly drove Swann from the NFL after only two seasons. "It was bad enough earlier in that game," he says. "At one point Jack Tatum came up behind me in the end zone. The officials didn't see it because I wasn't anywhere near the ball, but Tatum left his feet so he could hit me full force in the back of the head. I was still dazed from that in the second half when I caught a pass over the middle, and Atkinson tackled me around the head.

"That put me in the hospital, but what was really frightening was that this time what Atkinson did to me was a quote-unquote legal hit. After that, I thought to myself, 'Whoa, this is not what I came here for.' "

Swann came out of the hospital to be named MVP in the '76 Super Bowl, in which the Steelers beat the Cowboys, but the euphoria of that triumph did not erase the harsh memory of the Oakland ferocity. In the months that followed, Swann all but made up his mind to retire. In explaining why he finally decided to come back, he employs one of his Norman Vincent Peale sermonettes:

"That thing about Atkinson and my thinking about retiring was the biggest thing I've had to overcome in my life. For once, things just didn't go right for me. But I was traveling in Europe, and I ended up skiing in Innsbruck. I wasn't doing very well at it and I decided to go home. But then, all of a sudden, I said no. I bought some new equipment and I decided to stay until I beat that mountain. And it took me four or five more days, but I did, and that's when I decided to meet football head on, too, so I came back to play." He pauses. "But the mountain is still there. For someone else. And there's no mountain in life that someone else hasn't climbed."

He talks that way. He really does. It's the gorilla in him. Around his neck he wears a gold pendant with a swan etched on one side, and on the other, his words: MY FRIENDS ARE MY LIFE, SHARE MY LOVE. He gave duplicates of it to his family and closest friends. At his wedding in June, before 500 guests, he interrupted the traditional service to read love vows he had composed himself to his bride, culminating: "My soul is your soul, and time is our instrument to build life upon love." Even his signature is lyrical, almost carved with painstaking care.

One girl friend broke up with him because, in this unlettered, narcissistic age, she could not deal with a man who poured out mushy love paeans to her. Bernadette and Lynn drink seldom, but when they do, it must be champagne. "With Lynn, it's roses and champagne, all the time," she says. And donuts, with love. He will latch on to any excuse to wear tails; last year he gave a Halloween party and came as Dracula. He would not live with Bernadette before they were married, fearful that it would spoil his vision: "Marriage is something you should do just once, and you ought to do it right."

It is not a matter of Swann being a different sort of football player. It is more the other way round, that the strangest aspect to his being is that he plays this fierce, tumultuous war sport. In his childhood, his heroes were not athletes but just entertainers and swashbucklers. When he learned he had been drafted by Pittsburgh, all he knew about the Steelers was that there was a black guy on the team with an Italian name and they had "nice-looking uniforms."

Just as his agent says that Swann "transcends" race, so in many of the right ways is the manly Swann temperamentally androgynous. Indeed, his mother longed that he, the last of her three children, would be a girl, and hoping that wishing would make it so, she had no boy's names on tap. So she named the baby after Dr. Lynn Curtis, because she liked the obstetrician and his name. So does the recipient. He has been advised that Lynn means a love of life, Curtis refers to courtesy, and Swann signifies beauty and grace. The superfluous double letter at the end of his surname—shades of old Jimmy Foxx—indicates, Swann has been told, some kind of special extra power. Has any athlete ever carried a name so befitting? Stripteasers lie awake at night trying to dream up apt stage names. Even Swann's number is appropriate: double eights to match the double ns. Eight beats is a base number for dance; 88 keys on the piano. "I've always seen myself as put to music," Swann says.

His mother introduced him to dance, his older brother Calvin to sports. He was a natural at both, and he would tag after Calvin and try whatever games his brother was playing. So, from the first, Lynn was invariably among the smallest players and he learned to play the bigger boys' game and not be intimidated by foolish size. Oh yes, he does too see everybody waiting for him over the middle, but if fate has made you a baton, then twirl yourself onto center stage. "Whenever I come to the huddle late in a game," Swann says, "I want my team to know, 'Hey, I may have been out there alone all day, doing nothing, but I'll be ready for you when you need me for the big play.' "

Significantly, he then finds a show-business metaphor to explain this better, saying, "If I ever have my own TV special, I know exactly how I'm going to open—with The Ugly Duckling from Hans Christian Andersen: 'There once was an ugly duckling, with feathers all dirty and brown.' That's me."

But you were never ugly. "Yeah, but I was always the smallest, so I had to learn to play a smarter game. It's the same sort of thing. And I'll come out in this feathery costume and stumble all around, and then I'll break out of that and I'll be dancing in white tie and tails."

When Swann showed up at the Steelers' camp this summer, a couple weeks late because of the trial in San Francisco, an adoring fan was waiting there for his return. She watched him run extra sprints after practice. Chuck Noll is a football coach, and this player was late reporting; don't tell me about trials, plagues, famines, earthquakes, nuclear holocausts, we have a football camp to run here. The coach had Swann running laps till he dropped. And Swann did as he was bid, smiling after the pain. He loves football. He really does. It's part of his life, isn't it?

The lady watched him, and she said, "Now it's sunny and 88 again in Pittsburgh."

PHOTOPHOTOSwann's champagne tastes may clash with Pittsburgh's shot-and-a-beer image, but he's not complaining.PHOTOLynn read his own poetic love vows to Bernadette at their wedding.PHOTONever a shrinking violet, Swann once gave 'em the young soft shoe.PHOTOSwann's ornate autograph qualifies as a real piece of art.