Lynn Swann or John Stallworth – Who Was Better?

As regular readers will note, Steel Curtain Rising is taking advantage of the bye week to collect more votes on our Swann-Stallworth poll, which was originally posted along side the article on John Stallworth’s Improbable Journey.

The question has fascinated two, going on three, generations of Steelers fans. Who was better, number 88 or number 82? Of the two greatest wide receivers in Steelers history (no disrespect to Hines Ward intended) who do you rank first?

After all:

  • Swann and Stallworth are both Hall of Famers
  • Both Stallworth and Swann stretched the field
  • Swann and Stallworth made the tough catches
  • Stallworth and Swann excelled on the game’s largest stage, the Super Bowl
  • Both Swann and Stallworth had that uncanny knack of getting open and finding the endzone with the game on the line

The arguments that one can make in favor of each man are endless. Steel Curtain Rising makes no pretension of exhausting them here, nor do we offer a definitive answer – that’s up to you.

The Case for Lynn Swann

While Lynn Swann is certainly not the best wide receiver in NFL history, you can argue that no other wideout captured the imagination of football fans like number 88.

Football is as a rough and tumble sport as they come, and few appreciate the fundamentals of smash mouth football more than Steelers fans.

Yet Swann transcended that. He brought an elegance and grace to the wide receiver position few would have thought possible, making dazzling, acrobatic, seemingly impossible catches.

The only “knock” on Swann is that he played for such a short time, nine years, including the strike-shortened 1982 season. His career numbers, 336 catches for 5,462 yards look pedestrian by the standards of today’s NFL.

And that is what kept Swann out of the Hall of Fame for so long. But quality trumps quantity in Swann’s case. A friend of mine, who we’ll simply call “BBD” who is not a Steelers fan, once commented that Swann deserved induction into Canton solely on his Super Bowl X performance.

If any of you are unfamiliar with that, take a look at the video, and you’ll understand BBD’s argument:

Perhaps whoever said in the mid-1990’s, I believe it was Dan Rooney, put it best when he said that the true mark of Swann’s greatness was that more than 15 years after he retired, people reacted to odds-defying catches by saying “that was a Lynn Swann catch.”

The Case for John Stallworth

John Stallworth may have never been able to match Lynn Swann’s style, but he certainly stood right alongside his teammate when it came to substance.

Since the day he took the field opposite Swann, Stallworth many saw him as a “possession receiver.” But the record tells a different tale.

Stallworth actually had a better yards per-catch average in the 1975, 1977, 1978, 1980, and 1981 seasons. A quick look at Steelers 100 yard receiving efforts shows that John Stallworth had 50% more 100 yard passing games than Swann did – if you limit the count to seasons when both men were playing.

That latter point is probably the greatest argument in Stallworth’s favor. Not only did John Stallworth play five more seasons than Lynn Swann, he excelled during that time.

A small sample of a few games during that span reveals just how much damage John Stallworth did with just a few touches of the ball:

  • 4-109 and 3 TD’s against Houston in 1984
  • 7-116 and 3 TD’s against San Diego in 1985
  • 4-111 and 2 TD’s against Miami in the 1984 playoffs
  • 7-126 and 1 TD against Kansas City in 1985

These numbers might seem less impressive by the standard’s of today’s NFL, but they are perhaps even more impressive when you consider that these passes no longer originated with Terry Bradshaw, but rather David Woodley and Mark Malone.

Who Decides – You Do

The arguments, the number crunching, the highlights drawn from great games, could go on, and on. So be it. Right now, in this little corner of Steelers Nation, you’ve got the chance to make your voice heard. So do it. Vote in our poll above and/or leaving a comment below.

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