(Written By Tom Shanahan)
Hall-of-Famer Lynn Swann’s football career at USC and with the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers has taken him to his sport’s grandest stages.
Swann has one Rose Bowl win and four Super Bowl victories. He has crisscrossed the continent to venerable stadiums from the Orange Bowl to Candlestick Park in an NFL golden age when dynasties ruled. The acrobatic wide receiver, with enshrinement in both the College Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame, used his ballet background as a youth to play the game as gracefully as Baryshnikov.
From the playing field, Swann glided into a broadcasting career. His TV work subsequently took him to college bowl games, NFL Monday Night Football, the winter and summer Olympics, the Kentucky Derby — and even the Iditarod Trail dog sled race.
But the Army-Navy Game remains one iconic American sports event that Swann has yet to witness first-hand. Well, he might soon be watching America’s Game, a rivalry that dates back to 1890, from the parents’ section for Army’s players.
His son Shafer Swann, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound wide receiver at Pittsburgh Central Catholic, has recently committed to Army. Shafer plans to march on the Plain as a West Point Cadet and catch passes for the Black Knights in Michie Stadium.
Despite his surname, Shafer was a virtual unknown on the Class of 2014 recruiting trail, but Army’s coaches aren’t the only ones who saw untapped potential.
“He’s got all the physical attributes,” Lynn said. “He’s 6-3, 190; with two, three, four years in a college program, with weight training and conditioning, he can add 20 pounds without losing speed.
“He has the ability to go up in the air and make catches. A number of the catches he made were big plays going up for the ball down the field and taking it away from defensive backs. The only thing he is lacking is learning the nuances of his position.”
Shafer Swann is another example of 21st century American high school graduates influenced by the 9/11 terrorists attacks of 2001 and the economic crash in 2008.
“I definitely feel that since 9/11 and the market crash people feel more patriotic and more proactive about the economy,” Swann said. “Young people see movies and what’s happening and they want to be part of making the world a better place. I want to do my part. West Point will give me the resources to be a better leader and the tools I need to make a difference in my own lifetime.”
Some of Shafer’s future teammates will need their fathers to explain to them who the 61-year-old Lynn Swann was as a player and that one of his trademarks was going up for balls. His Super Bowl catches are part of any Pittsburgh Steelers or Super Bowl retrospective you’ll see aired on TV. As a young USC receiver, the old joke when he arrived on the then-Pac-8 scene was an opposing coach responded that he knew USC had a receiver named Swann but didn’t know he played as gracefully as one.
Shafer has escaped notice on the recruiting trail for a couple of reasons. One was he was focused on his track career as a sprinter and long jumper for most of his high school days.
Central Catholic quarterback J.J. Cosentino, a top recruit who is committed to Florida State, understands the recruiting game. He says the couple of camps Swann attended weren’t enough to be properly evaluated. One was at USC, where Swann might have been dismissed by evaluators as a legacy participant.
“Compared to other people, he didn’t go to enough camps,” Cosentino said. “I went to a bunch of camps.”
Another reason was Central Catholic plays a heavily run-oriented offense. The 6-foot-4, 216-pound Cosentino is a Rivals 4-star prospect ranked the No. 15 pro-style quarterback in the nation, yet he only threw 94 passes in 16 games for a 15-1 team that finished as the state 4A runner-up.
But Shafer made the most of his limited passing opportunities. He caught 11 balls for 353 yards — an average of 32.1 yards per catch — with four touchdowns.
“He’s just getting started playing football and learning the game,” Cosentino said. “He was mostly a track guy until now. We played a run-oriented offense, so he has a lot to learn, but I think with a good coach he can explode at the next level. He definitely can break off the top of a defense. He needs some work at the beginning of his route, but he can really fly at the top of his route. He can go get the ball.”
Of course, any wide receiver that plays in a run-oriented offense is likely ahead of the game with blocking skills when he arrives at a program such as Army’s to play in a triple-option offense.
“When he wants to be, he can be the best blocker on the field,” Cosentino said. “Sometimes he might get tired of blocking, which I understand. Sometimes I got tired of handing off the ball.”
Shafer’s lack of recruiting attention should not be equated with Army as a fallback destination for him. His West Point interest supersedes his football curiosity. He didn’t attend Army’s football camp, but he was one of the 500 rising high school seniors who earned and invitation to last year’s Summer Leaders Seminar on the West Point campus. Shafer, when he announced his commitment, says his mother Charena also has encouraged him to pursue the West Point opportunity.
Lynn Swann, the 2006 Republican Pennsylvania governor candidate, is proud of his son’s spectrum of interest outside the world of football.
“Looking at West Point was something he brought to the table,” Lynn said. “He said it was something he wanted to consider. We’ve nourished his ideas. He went to the leadership conference and came away feeling good about West Point. We have enormous pride in him.
“If West Point is where he decides to go, he’s going to a strong school. Forget about the military aspect — it’s one of the top schools in the country. We think such an education is invaluable and a great testament to his belief in his ability to serve his country.”
The Hall-of-Famer has seemingly done it all, but his son can add another great American sports event to his father’s resume.