Pittsburgh's 1-2 receiver punch hard to stop
Even though Istanbul is Constantinople, John Stallworth is not Lynn Swann, although both are outstanding pass receivers with the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Los Angeles Rams, the Steelers' opponents on Jan. 20, have extensive scouting reports on Stallworth and Swann that must read like a horror story to their defensive backs.
Swann in motion is as graceful as his name. Lynn doesn't catch a football so much as he surrounds it. This is a guy who can perform the Indian rope trick whenever a ball is thrown above his head. If it were possible to choreograph what he does, maybe more sports fans would attend the ballet.
While nobody is ever going to set Stallworth to music or put him on canvas, John's production this season was even better than Swann's -- 70 catches to 41; eight touchdown passes to five.
Some people mature late, even though the talent is always there. Stallworth was one of those people, a fourth- round draft pick in 1974 who had a total of only 36 receptions his first two years in the National Football League.
While Swann, an All-America out of Southern California, was getting all the publicity, John was still learning his craft. What you have to remember is that Stallworth went to Alabama A&M, whose schedule doesn't get printed every Sunday in the New York Times, and where the pass patterns are more like something out of Simplicity than Vogue.
John can probably best be described as a polished worker who runs his patterns flawlessly; is at least as quick as the cornerbacks who cover him; can jump higher than most; and generally retains possession of anything he gets his hands on.
Stallworth also had the good fortune to come into the NFL with a team whose quarterback (Terry Bradshaw) is an equal-opportunity passer. Unlike many other quarterbacks, Bradshaw has never had what you might call a favorite receiver.
Although Swann's completion figures over the years suggest this isn't so, Bradshaw will throw to anyone if he's open, and this season John has managed to get free a great many times.
His success can't be traced to speed alone, however. He also has a variety of subtle moves that prevent defensive backs from committing themselves too soon.
"When I first came into the pros I thought I could play with any wide receiver who was already here," Stallworth told reporters. "I was anxious to compare their speed and hands with my speed and my hands. I guess I had a big head. Mostly what I learned was that I wasn't going to make it as quickly as I thought I would."
The ultimate compliment on Stallworth is that he never hears the footsteps of opposing cornerbacks coming up behind him, an occupational hazard that has turned more than one wide receiver's career into jelly.
The point is, if you're worried about what the defensive man might do to you physically every time you come across the middle with your back to the goal line , you won't be able to hold on to the football. Once John does have possession he goes through the opposition like a guy who owes money.
For example, when the Steelers beat the Denver Broncos in last year's AFC playoff game, Stallworth had a record 10 receptions, good for 156 yards. Then in Super Bowl XIII against the Dallas Cowboys he caught three passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns.
He probably would have caught more, too, if leg injuries hadn't sidelined him for the entire second half.
If you like your football out in the open, where the ball, the receiver, and the defensive back can all be caught in a camera lens at the same time, Stallworth is the man to watch. While his shoes might not come from the same store as Rudoph Nureyev's, his talent and leaping ability do.
What Los Angeles has to hope is that its defensive backs can stop Stallworth right in his tracks on short passes and that double coverage will be enough to keep him from catching any of the deep stuff. Otherwise, the Rams will playing strictly for runner-up money.