The Incredible Rookie Class of the 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers

This episode of Pro Football in the 1970s is dedicated to the late Frank Reading, who sadly passed away just before Super Bowl LVI. May he rest in God’s eternal peace.

To say that the 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers had a quality offseason is an extreme understatement. Well, their front office management and coaching staff certainly had a quality offseason. They earned that designation for what they accomplished in the annual player draft and in their signing of free agents.

The Steelers acquired five rookies during the 1974 offseason who would one day be honored with the ultimate professional football honor, that of enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

No one really knew for sure what the team had when they obtained Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, Mike Webster, and Donnie Shell. By the end of their careers, however, everyone knew that they had witnessed the golden age of Pittsburgh Steelers rookies.

It is probably very safe to assume that no team throughout the NFL’s future will ever be able to produce five rookies in one draft and free agency class who will don a gold Hall of Fame jacket. It was indeed an incredible accomplishment and one that will withstand the test of time as far as greatness is concerned.

Round 1 - Lynn Swann

The flashy wide receiver from the University of Southern California by the name of Lynn Swann was the first player that the Steelers chose in the 1974 NFL Draft. Swann would be the 21st overall pick, and he would go on to a stellar career.

He was a member of the first four World Championship Steelers teams in 1974, 1975, 1978, and 1979. Swann became the first wide receiver to ever be awarded with a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award following his performance in Super Bowl X.

Swann snared four passes for 161 yards against the Dallas Cowboys on that day, which included the game-winning 65-yard reception on a bomb from Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw.

Round 2 - Jack Lambert

The next Steelers rookie from 1974 to be enshrined in Canton was middle linebacker Jack Lambert, who was selected in the 2nd round of the draft, with the 46th overall pick.

Lambert (Kent State) proved to be the natural reincarnation of the great Dick Butkus. Both of those linebackers were on par with each other when it came to meanness. Lambert had the snarling look on his tooth-missing face, and even though he was as thin as a beanpole, he played with the ferocity of a wild animal.

Lambert took everything personally, and he distributed punishment in every game and in every practice. It was as if he had a perpetual chip on his shoulder the size of a boulder. He played angry, and his anger helped to lead him to the Hall of Fame.

Round 4 - John Stallworth

John Stallworth got the next call to join the Steelers. He was selected in the fourth round, the 82nd overall pick. Stallworth hailed from Alabama A&M and was overlooked by many teams. Teaming up with Swann, Pittsburgh now had two of the best wide receivers in the game. 

The addition of Stallworth allowed the Steelers to expand their offense from a solid running team to a solid running and passing team. They were now becoming as formidable offense as the league would witness, thanks to this 1974 draft. But the fun was not over yet in Pittsburgh…

5th Round - Mike Webster

In the fifth round, Steelers head coach Chuck Noll chose Wisconsin center Mike Webster. Throughout the mid-to-late 1970s, no center in the NFL was in the class of Webster. Even in practice, someone as strong as Pittsburgh defensive tackle Joe Greene could not manage to move Webster.

Through his magnificent efforts, both Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier became 1,000-yard rushers, and Terry Bradshaw had plenty of time to locate his wide receivers deep downfield. Webster died prematurely at the age of 50 in 2002.

Undrafted - Donnie Shell

One more Hall of Famer came to the team in 1974, but not through the draft. Donnie “Torpedo” Shell was signed by Chuck Noll as a free agent to shore up the Pittsburgh defensive secondary. He began his pro football career as a reserve safety, but he eventually worked his way into the starting lineup.

Few were the defensive backs who could deliver a hit as strong and as rapidly with as much force as Donnie Shell. He waited 33 years to get the call from the Hall of Fame, but it was certainly worth the wait.

Wrap-Up of 1974 Steeler Rookie Class

 Five different rookies from five completely different backgrounds. Each of these players earned a gold jacket and a Hall of Fame bust, and they each in their own way, helped to make the Pittsburgh Steelers one of the greatest dynasties that the game would ever see in the 1970s.

Podcast Trivia Time

Trivia Question:  

Besides Donnie Shell, what other rookie defensive back made the Steelers roster as a rookie in 1974?

Trivia Answer:

Jimmy Allen

Host and Author of Pro Football in the 1970s - Joe Zagorski

Throughout his days, Joe spent some time as a sportswriter and has been a member of the Pro Football Researchers Association since the mid-1980s.  Joe is also a proud member of the Pro Football Writers of America.

Also, if you’re interested in picking one of Joe’s books up, all three are listed below.

Here, you can learn more about Joe and Pro Football in the 1970s.

Joe Zagorski
Joe Zagorski
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
07/21/2024 09:35 am GMT
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
07/21/2024 03:38 pm GMT
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
07/21/2024 03:48 pm GMT

Please Note – As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases

More Posts From Pro Football In The 1970s

Leave a Comment