Gold Jacket Spotlight: John Stallworth ‘turned pass patterns into art’

When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted JOHN STALLWORTH in the fourth round of the 1974 NFL Draft, Art Rooney Jr., the head of Steelers scouting, stated: “We felt we had gotten two first-round draft choices.”

Rich Emert of the Beaver County Times wrote, “The Steelers drafted him in the fourth round in what looks like the steal of the decade.”

John’s NFL career and enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame support both perspectives and place John in this week’s Gold Jacket Spotlight.

The Steelers’ 1974 draft included future Hall of Famers LYNN SWANN (Class of 2001), JACK LAMBERT (1990) and MIKE WEBSTER (1997) along with John. Additionally, Pittsburgh signed undrafted free agent DONNIE SHELL the same year. Shell was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020.

John credited Steelers veteran receive Frank Lewis as being a respected mentor in his development, saying, “Frank really taught me a lot. We used to talk, and since Frank was a polished veteran, he kind of took me under his wing. He showed me how to run routes and was just my friend.”

While running routes was certainly critical to John’s success, his ability to focus on catching the football was equally conspicuous.

“When he’s on the field, there is nothing but him and the football,” Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Tom Moore observed.

John’s career-long desire to make every catch caught the attention of Steelers head coach Chuck Noll during training camp in 1985.

“Stallworth probably led the Steelers in ‘intraceptions,' ” Noll said. “Sometimes he catches balls that are intended for other receivers. He thinks any ball in the air belongs to him.”

The Plain Dealer’s Elton Alexander once wrote, “If Carl Lewis (Olympic gold medalist) was born to run and George Brett (Baseball Hall of Famer 1999) was born to hit, then Johnny Lee Stallworth was born to catch a football.”

John’s reaction to the commentary about this catching ability was simply, “It just came natural. I would reach out to catch the ball, and it would stick. It’s always been a God-given talent that I possess.”

John and fellow receiver Swann ascended to become – many consider – the greatest tandem of NFL receivers during their time playing together. They were members of four Steelers Super Bowl championship teams: IX, X, XIII and XIV.

“The Steelers’ two starting receivers should be listed as entry 1 and 1A,” longtime NFL reporter Vito Stellino wrote. “They form the best pass receiving duo in the game at the moment.”

The receivers’ competitive nature pushed one another to excel.

“It’s a high respect for one another’s talents, personalities and goals,” Swann said.

“I think we both have big egos,” John said, “but we’re able to subdue them a little bit for the team effort.” Prior to Super Bowl XIV, he declared, “They might be able to stop one of us, but they can’t stop both of us.”

John’s 73-yard touchdown reception from Hall of Famer TERRY BRADSHAW (Class of 1989) provided the game-winning score in the Steelers’ 31-19 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

“I could name you hundreds of John Stallworth catches,” Bradshaw said. “He made dramatic catches, great catches, one-handed catches. He was incredible.”

Later, Bradshaw added, “John Stallworth should have been the MVP of Super Bowl XIV, not me.”

Steelers defensive back and Hall of Famer MEL BLOUNT called John “the most complete receiver we had on that team.”

John’s career continued for five seasons after Swann’s retirement.

“Steelers star Stallworth is getting better not older,” Steve Love observed in an Akron Beacon Journal article. “He makes it all look easier than it is. A flick of his head at the right moment, a stutter step, a last-second stretch, and the defender is left holding the bag while Stallworth holds the ball.”

The pass route artisan concluded his 14-year playing career in 1985 and posed with sculptor Blair Buswell for his Pro Football Hall of Fame bust in 2002.