Steelers Nation is celebrating Pittsburgh’s 1974 draft this spring as it should. In 1974 the team of Chuck Noll, Art Rooney, Jr., Dick Haley and Bill Nunn authored the best draft in this history of the National Football League.
It’s probably not too much of a stretch for the faithful to do a collective fist pump and channel their inner Brett Hart’s saying,
- The Steelers 1974 Draft is the best there was, there ever will be!
|Bill Nunn, Dick Haley, V. Tim Rooney, and Art Rooney Jr.
The stories behind the 1974 draft remain the stuff of legend. Of Art Rooney Jr. scouting Lambert while he practiced on asphalt at Kent State. Bill Nunn’s slight of hand in scouting John Stallworth. These and other yarns will be spun and respun and will again.
Expecting the success of the 1974 draft to be repeated in Pittsburgh or elsewhere simply isn’t realistic. The playing field is far too level now. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t lessons Steelers Nation can take from the 1974 NFL Draft as we move towards the 2014 NFL Draft.
Lesson I – The Fallacy that The Steelers 1974 Hall of Fame Hall Sparked 4 Super Bowls
Alan Robinson’s hardly the only one to make this kind of statement. In fact, many assume it is simply reality. Nonetheless, Robinson’s recent article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review provides a perfect example:
This is the 40th anniversary of the Steelers’ Class of 1974, a 21-member draft class that is the best in NFL history. Of the five Hall of Famers drafted by NFL teams that year, four were Steelers, an unprecedented talent haul that immediately propelled the franchise to four Super Bowl wins in six seasons. (Emphasis added.)
That’s poetic and looking back 40 years later it certainly seems like a true case of cause and effect at work. Except closer examination of the record reveals something else.
Of the four Hall of Famers taken, only Jack Lambert started immediately. The NFL didn’t keep sacks then, but Lambert bagged two interceptions and force a fumble.
Mike Webster started 1 game but appeared in 14, as Chuck Noll worked out a rotation system for Webster and Ray Mansfield. Webby got his time, but it was still Mansfield’s line.
- As for Lynn Swann and John Stallworth?
Lynn Swann is listed as starting two games, but recorded all of 11 catches and two touchdowns. Swann contributed on special teams, returning 41 punts for an impressive 14.1 average and one touchdown.
John Stallworth is listed as starting 3 games that year, but still only made 16 catches for 1 touchdown.
Lambert’s contributions were the most important, and roughly analogous to those the Heath Miller made as a rookie in the Steelers run to Super Bowl XL. Webster, Swann and Stallworth did their parts, but paled in comparison to those made by the likes of Joe Greene or Franco Harris, let alone those of Frank Lewis, the team’s number 1 wide out.
- The bottom line is that fans hoping for salvation via the 2014 should temper expectations
A strong rookie class can boosts but does not transform a contender into a champion.
Lesson II: Beware of Paralysis by Analysis
Post-draft day grades and evaluations are about as useful as MLB batting averages on April 15th — papers are almost obligated to publish the number, but come late September no one will care. Nonetheless, the rush to be the first to declare a “winner” to the draft after the last selection is called has accelerated to inane levels in the age of the internet.
- But such paralysis by analysis is hardly something born in the digital age.
In his self-titled autobiography Dan Rooney shared this bit of instant analysis published after Day 1 of the 1974 NFL Draft:
The Steelers seem to have come out of the first five rounds of the draft appreciably strengthened at wide receiver but nowhere else. They didn’t get a tight end, and the ones remaining are more suspect than prospect. They didn’t get a punter, although none of the nation’s best collegiate kickers weren’t in the first five rounds. They didn’t get an offensive tackle that might’ve shored up what could well become a weakness. What they did get was Swann, who seems to be a sure-pop to help; Lambert, who figures to be the number-5 linebacker if he pans out; and three question marks.
The rush to judgment after a draft is only human. But the Steelers had just taken 4 future Hall of Famers, and the columnist from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was miffed because they didn’t take a punter.
None of this will or should stop professional writers and bloggers from analyzing the 2014 NFL Draft. But lesson of the Steelers 1974 Draft is that such instant draft analysis must be taken with several healthy shakes of the salt shaker.