Did Lynn Swann Earn His Spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

For any athlete, getting inducted into his or her sport’s Hall of Fame is the greatest honor they can receive. For sports fans, debating the credentials of players, especially those on the bubble, is a common activity. Not everyone agrees if certain players belong in the Hall of Fame, and the phrase “hall of very good” has entered the sports vernacular as a way to describe athletes who come close but don’t quite make the cut in some people’s opinions.

Some players who are actually in a Hall of Fame may belong to the hall of very good instead. Lynn Swann, as good of an NFL player as he was, might be one example.

How many years did Lynn Swann play in the NFL?

Lynn Swann speaks to the media at the Hall of Fame
Lynn Swann speaks to the media | Elsa/ALLSPORT

The Pro Football Hall of Fame profiles Swann’s professional career, which spanned nine seasons with the Steelers. After excelling in college at USC, Swann landed in Pittsburgh as the 21st overall pick of the 1974 NFL draft, the first wide receiver selected.

He only started two games as a receiver in his rookie season but stood out as a returner. He returned 41 punts for 577 yards, and his 64-yard punt return touchdown was the Steelers’ longest scoring play of the season.

In the AFC championship game that season, Swann caught the go-ahead touchdown to help the Steelers advance to Super Bowl IX, which they won.

For his nine-year career, Swann had 336 receptions for 5,462 yards, and 51 touchdowns. He was a three-time Pro Bowler and won four Super Bowls with the Steelers’ dynasty in the ’70s.

Lynn Swann enters the Hall of Fame after 14 years as a finalist

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Swann retired following the 1982 season and became eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame five years later, but it wouldn’t be until the 21st century that he would finally make the cut.

In his 14th season on the ballot in 2001, joining a class that included defensive stalwarts Jackie Slater and Jack Youngblood, as well as longtime NFL coach Marv Levy.

ESPN quoted Swann upon the announcement that he was voted in as saying he “tried to take a real deep breath, but [he] could only cry” when he got the news — an expected reaction after waiting almost a decade and a half to get the call.

Swann was sitting in his hotel room in Tampa and, when the time he was expecting to hear about the voting results had passed, he called his wife to give her the bad news. Shortly after getting off the phone with her, Swann officially received word that he would be getting a bust in Canton.

Is there a case against his induction?

Getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is an honor that can never be taken away from Swann, but did he earn that honor? There is a case that can be made against the career Steeler.

He is one of the best to ever put on the black-and-gold uniform — at the time he retired, he was the franchise leader in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown receptions — and deserves every honor the Steelers bestow upon him.

But did he have a Hall of Fame career? He only played nine seasons, which is longer than the average NFL player, but not as long as many of the all-time greats. Pro Football Reference lists the players most similar to Swann, and the best receivers of all-time — names like Jerry Rice and Randy Moss — are nowhere to be found.

Instead, receivers with similar-length careers and stats include DeSean Jackson, Andre Rison, Dez Bryant, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh — good players, but not Hall-worthy.

As of 2020, Swann isn’t even in the 250 on the NFL’s all-time lists in receptions or receiving yards. Swann was certainly very good, but that shouldn’t be enough to get him in the Hall of Fame.

You have to wonder, if he wasn’t part of the Steelers’ dynasty and didn’t have four Super Bowl rings, would he be in the Hall?

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference