Lynn Swann Enshrinement speech
Pro Football Hall of Fame
August 4, 2001
John Stallworth (presenter):
Feels like Three Rivers in here. Thank you.
For the first nine years of my career, I competed against some of the toughest defensive backs in the NFL. But my biggest competition, my biggest competitor, wore the same colors I did. I competed against one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play the game. Our individual competitiveness built a barrier between us and I thank God that he’s given me the time and Lynn the time to break down that wall, to break down that barrier.
It is a signal honor to be here today, to present someone that I have the privilege of calling my friend, Lynn Swann. Desire, character, cohesiveness are the ingredients that go into making a great athlete and truly a good person. Do you have the desire to be great and the willingness to work toward that? Do you have the foundation of good character that allows you to overcome the obstacles in life rather than crumble under the stress? Can you achieve the cohesiveness necessary to be a team player? During Lynn’s life, during his career, he has answered that with a resounding, ‘yes.’ He’s answered every doubt that there’s ever been about him with a resounding ‘yes.’ But, there’s never been a doubt about his talent.
Chuck Noll said he was a perfect developed football player the moment he stepped on the practice field. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to see him play will all remember our favorite Swann catch. He’s dazzled us in Super Bowls with catches while rolling and falling down, we’ve marveled at his mid-air maneuvers. He seems to get to those high ones a lot quicker than defensive backs that were guarding him. You know, I like to believe it was because where they might have had thoughts of putting themselves in jeopardy of injury, Lynn never had those thoughts.
Lynn’s been blessed with impeccable timing. A lot has been written about those dance lessons, and you heard a little bit about that. I’d like to know what he really told the guys on the playground though when they asked him what he’s been doing for the last couple of hours. Did he really tell them he’s been to dance lessons? You know, but it was California, so it may have been a little bit different. You know, taking his lessons seemed to be a part of a master plan - taking dance lessons seemed to be part of a master plan. And, Lynn always seemed to know where he wanted his career to go. Where a lot of players were just happy to be in the NFL, he’s always had a strategic plan by his own admission, he always has great ideas. He’d be a great guy to start a business with because of that. He’ll give you three to five minutes on why the idea’s great prior to giving you the idea. You know whereas not all the ideas will be great, but what he lacks in quality, he more than makes up for in quantity.
Joe Greene said that when the game was on the line, Lynn always stepped forward and he made it look easy. And, he did. But the steps were not always easy and I was there to see. There were steps made with some pain, there were some steps made with some risk, and he made those steps despite those risks. And not just leaving the game early, or leaving the season early, or maybe having a shortened career, but he made those steps when they could damage him for life. There were concussions that he came back much too early from but went on to play one of the greatest games any wide receiver has ever played.
I think Lynn’s intangible attributes are what really makes him a great athlete and an exceptional individual. It’s not just his finesse on the field but his faithfulness to his family, to his friends, to his work, and to his ideas. I’ve seen that faithfulness in the ways he relates to his children, the love he shows for a wife, and the respect and the admiration he has for his parents. It’s not just his commitment to being a big game player, but his commitment to causes bigger than he is. Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Multiple Sclerosis - he was selected NFL Man of the Year in 1981 because of that, because of giving back so much to his community.
Lynn’s a man of uncompromising principles and a strong sense of integrity and loyalty. We joked early on when we start talking about his acceptance speech, about him saying something profound and leaving everyone with that statement. But, as I thought about it for a little while, I thought that little note will placed on what we say but the far greater emphasis will be placed on our actions, or his actions, on getting here. Those actions speak profoundly of the caliber of athlete that Lynn Swann is but even more to the greatness of the man.
Please help me to bring forward one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play the game, my friend Lynn Swann.
Thank you. Thank you Pittsburgh. Thank you western Pennsylvania, all of Pennsylvania. Thank you.
You have been great fans. Thank you so much. Thank you.
I have to say to the Board of Trustees of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, to John Bankert and his staff, to the commissioner of the National Football League Paul Tagliabue, to all of the Hall of Famers who have come back today, to my fellow enshrinees, and to the writers who voted us into the Hall of Fame - I proudly and humbly say thank you very much.
It was 14 years on that list before I could stand here today and wear this gold jacket to tell you thank you and how much I love and appreciate how you’ve supported me over these years. Fourteen years. But, if patience is a virtue then the virtuous part of that patience is in finding the positives of having to wait so long. The man who introduced me today, John Stallworth, he and I battled day in and day out. We competed for that limited number of passes that we knew that we were going to throw every game on Sunday. And, we wanted it desperately. I could not be standing here if it were not for that competitive spirit that I learned from John Stallworth, for his trust and his faith in me as a wide receiver.
If were going to call someone the best and if you think of me as being the best and I’m number one. Well, you’ve got broaden that thinking, there has to be 1A and a 1AA. I’m not saying who’s 1A but John and I are 1A and 1AA’s side-by-side.
I could not be here without the overwhelming support of Dan Rooney and Chuck Noll. I know that last year when Dan Rooney stood here at this podium as proud as he was to be following in his father’s footsteps, who also stood here and accepted the award of being inducted into the Hall of Fame, that he felt that maybe standing here might take something away from a player going into the Hall of Fame. Dan Rooney deserves to be here for his great contributions to this game, regardless of what player does or does not go into the Hall of Fame. He is a cornerstone of the National Football League and keeps this league running in the right direction. So, I am happy that he is standing here behind me, sitting behind me, to share in this day, to know that I fully appreciate all that he has done. And to Chuck Noll, for his unwavering support in saying that I belong here on the steps of Canton, and giving me the opportunity to play this football game.
The virtuous part of having this patience also means that the day I was selected to the Hall of Fame this last January couldn’t have been a better day because it would have been the 100th anniversary of the birth of Art Rooney, Sr., the founder of this football team. If 14 years had not passed, then I would not be here today with the great patience, and support, and love of my wife Charena. Of being able to stand here in front of you and having my two sons Shafer and Braxton, who are five and three years old to be here and be a part of this afternoon. I’m glad 14 years passed so I could have this love and this family share in this moment with me.
But, the beginnings of all of this come from my mother and father and instilling me a faith in God. That if I walked that path and paid attention to the details to life and faith, and my family, everything would be okay. Because I’m the youngest of three boys, whom my mother named Lynn because she wanted to have a girl. Now, you thought that was tough. You try leaving football practice with a pair of tights named Lynn at an all-boys Catholic high school. You’ll find yourself learning a few moves.
I want to thank my mother because when I was in junior high school, I received a scholarship to go to Serra High School in San Mateo, California and I did not want to go to this all-boys Catholic high school. My mother made me go. She made me go on the foundation that education and what she instilled in my life have brought me here today.
I want to thank my father, Willie Swann. And, when I first started playing football against my middle brother Calvin, who’s also here. Calvin is a much better athlete and my father said, ‘well, I’m not sure, Lynn, that you’re going to be so good.’ So, when he took me out to buy the football shoes, I wanted, you know, the really expensive white ones with the stripes and to look really cool. My father said, ‘I don’t know son, you know, I don’t know. We shouldn’t be investing that much money into your shoes. You may not be wearing them that long. All right?’ And, I felt kind of bad. But, you know what, the important thing was? The important was, my father was with me and he took me to get those shoes. And, he was at every game I ever played.
I was not, I was not very good. I was not a very good football player when I started out. But, I had my family support. I wanted to be as cool as my oldest brother, Dr. Brian Swann, who is here. And, I wanted to be as gifted as my brother Calvin. But I didn’t possess their abilities or talents at that age to really move forward. But, there were people who helped along the way like Gene Robinson at College Park Junior High School. There was my coach Jessie Freitas at Serra High School. Nick Carbone, Mike Nolan in basketball, who instilled in me a confidence and gave me a work ethic. That said, ‘you can achieve.’ You heard Ron Yary talk about an assistant coach at USC, Marv Goux. Marv Goux helped me to grow up to be a man while I was at USC. He taught me tradition, he taught me spirit. He taught me how to stand on my own two feet and work hard in the face of adversity. And so Marv Goux, I would thank you from the bottom of my heart for that time.
My receiver coach Willie Brown gave me the confidence my senior year to go out and achieve. Because, I did not have the dream of being a professional football player. I thought I was going to be something far different than being a professional football player. I was still wanting to be Mildred and Willie’s baby boy but I was going to work in some other area. But Willie Brown gave me the confidence my senior year that I could be an All-American player, that I could move forward.
I was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. And, you know coming from California, Dan Rooney called me up on the phone and said, ‘we’re thinking about drafting you.’ I said, ‘fine.’ I didn’t know much about Pittsburgh. I didn’t know much. I knew there was some guy because of every time he caught a pass, he was fairly religious, because every time he caught a pass, they called it the ‘Immaculate Reception.’ I knew he was, I knew he was Irish because his name was Frank O’Harris. I knew there was a guy named Joe Greene. They called him “Mean” Joe Greene and yeah, I was glad he was on my football team. And, I knew we were going to a steel town but I didn’t know what that meant. I was determined that I would play football in Pittsburgh and go back to southern California because I was a California kind of guy, absolutely through and through. But, as the years progressed, and I matured, Pittsburgh became home. And I could not have chosen a better place. I could not have chosen a better team to be on.
Now, I’m not here because I was that good. I’m here because of the people around me made me that good. They made me that good. John Stallworth forced me to work. Going against Jack Ham in practice every day made me work. Watching Franco Harris take the ball, run 40 yards every time he carried the ball made me work. Watching Franco Harris’s work in the community, day-in and day-out, made me work. Understanding what the tradition of the Rooney family in Pittsburgh, their sense of giving and community made me work hard in giving and giving back. These were the things that made our football team great. The sacrifice and the commitment. So, I can’t stand here in Canton, Ohio wearing this gold jacket, saying ‘I did this by myself.’ But, you know what, you’re not going to get this jacket off me.
This is, this is the single greatest honor in my honor in my life. The single greatest honor of my life. And, if this is the greatest hour of my life, then I would tell you at this moment, this is only a half-hour. It’ll be the greatest hour when I can stand and sit in that back row and John Stallworth is wearing a gold jacket making this speech.
Jackie Slater talked about confirmation, about confirmation. When you wait on the list for 14 years, and you really want to get something bad, and you don’t go in, you get close. You start thinking about, ‘am I good enough? Did I do enough? Will I ever get there?’ I found my confirmation in the hearts and the comments of the fans, my family who always stood behind me and said when I walked down the street in Pittsburgh, ‘don’t worry about it Swannie, you’ll get there next year. You’re the man, we believe in you. You should be in the Hall of Fame.’ And the undying support of Myron Cope when he voted year after year trying to get me into the Hall of Fame. To the magnificent work of Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and being able to get me into the Hall of Fame and that undying support. That was my confirmation. That is what told me I deserve to be here in Canton in the Hall of Fame. Your support, your unwavering loyalty and your trust in me that I did the right things when I played football.
I want to send out a special message to some friends who could not be here. My best friend in high school who was my freshman roommate. A swimmer who won a bronze medal in the 1972 Olympics in the 400-meter freestyle, Tom McGreen. Tom has been a lifelong friend and wanted to be here but sustained an injury to his back and he could not be here. But, he’s been my friend for more than 34 years. And without that kind of friendship, a lot of things do not happen. I wanted Marv Goux to be here. Obviously, the late John McKay, I wish, was still living. My teammates who’ve passed away – Ray Mansfield and Steve Furness. I wish that they were still here to be a part of this moment.
What makes a career and what I take with me is certainly a sense of satisfaction of having performed in a big moment. But it’s a response and reaction of people who’ve played the game. My happiness and greatest joy of my career and whatever I may have achieved have come from the words of people like Andre Reed, who is sitting here and played for the Buffalo Bills. From Jerry Rice, from the Randy Moss’s, and Cris Carters, who came up to me at various points in their careers and lives and said ‘Lynn Swann, you were the man. I wanted to be like you. I wanted to play the game the way you played it.’ When you have that kind of impact and those caliber players tell you that’s what they want to do, then you know in your heart, regardless of whether you stand here or not, you played the very best football a man could possible play. And you imparted something to the game, that was of great value. I stand here proud and humbled to be a member of the Class of 2001. This is a great moment for me and my family and a greater moment for the people of Pittsburgh.
There is, for me, no great wisdom that I can give you about this game. I can only tell you that what brought me here was a love of my friends who are sitting here, my extended family from California to Pittsburgh – the Hughes, the Gustavsons, the Chanins, the Lieblers, the Pearlsteins, - people I’ve loved, who have treated me like family, who’ve gotten me through, when my own parents couldn’t be there to spend Christmas with, Thanksgiving, and to share hard times and difficult moments. Those are the things that got me through. And the faith of the people here.
Before I sit down, I’m going to send one shout out to a man who waited even longer than I did to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. A great Pittsburgher who is going to have a great moment on Sunday – Bill Mazeroski is going into the Hall of Fame in baseball, in Cooperstown. And, I know, I know, it is going the greatest weekend in sports history for the city of Pittsburgh, we have seen in a very long time. But, it will not, it will not be the last, it is still more to come.
Thank you very much.