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Steelers' 1974 draft class recalled by lesser-known talents

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The PICKS

1: Lynn Swann, WR, Southern California. Hall of Famer and one of the best big-game receivers in NFL history; made a TD catch in five of Steelers' six playoff games in 1978-79. Now co-owner of Arena Football's Pittsburgh Power.

2: Jack Lambert, LB, Kent State. Hall of Famer who became a starter and one of defense's leaders as a rookie. Nine-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro pick. Still lives in W.Pa.; longtime youth league coach.

3: No pick.

4a: John Stallworth, WR, Alabama A&M. Held Steelers records for catches and yardage until Hines Ward broke them. Hall of Famer. Now a Steelers ownership group member. Founded an information technology services company that once employed more than 600.

4b: Jimmy Allen, DB, UCLA. Known as Spiderman, made 31 INTs in nine NFL seasons, all but seven INTs with Lions (1978-1981). Played for Steelers from 1974-77. Founded a Laundromat business after retiring but it wasn't successful, and he lived homeless for a time in Los Angeles.

5: Mike Webster, C, Wisconsin. Hall of Famer who played from 1974-90, with all but two seasons with Steelers. Was a Chiefs assistant coach but, troubled by brain damage after years of intense hitting during an era when concussions were not considered serious, died in 2002 at age 50. He was the first former NFL player diagnosed with CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

6a: Jim Wolf, DE, Prairie View A&M. Played two seasons. Died in 2003 of multiple sclerosis.

6b: Rick Druschel, OL, N.C. State. Won a Super Bowl ring with Steelers in 1974; later became a longtime high school coach, athletic director and principal in suburban Pittsburgh.

7a: Allen Sitterle, OL, N.C. State. Never played with Steelers, but was a 30-year high school football coach, mostly in South Carolina, with a career record of 282-98 and four state titles.

7b: Scott Garske, TE, Eastern Washington. Chosen for college's athletic Hall of Fame in 2012, son played QB for school's 1997 Division II semifinalist team.

8: Mark Gefert, LB, Purdue. Cut by Steelers, he made all-CFL team for Winnipeg but was cut again by Giants after making a second attempt to play in NFL. Now the athletic academic adviser at Cleveland State.

9a: Tommy Reamon, RB, Missouri. Turned down Steelers to play in World Football League, was tri-MVP of league in 1974. Later played in CFL with Saskatchewan.

9b: Charles Davis, DL, TCU. Played 7 seasons in NFL, one with Steelers; once had a five-sack playoff game for St. Louis. Later became an actor (“North Dallas Forty,” “Charlie's Angels”) and a longtime educator in Newport News, Va.

10a: Jim Kregel, OL, Ohio State. Didn't play for Steelers, but still regarded as one of Buckeyes' best linemen ever; played briefly in WFL.

10b: Dave Atkinson, DB, Brigham Young. Played briefly in WFL; later had two sons, Josh and Jordan, receive football scholarships to alma mater.

11: Dickey Morton, RB, Arkansas. Played for Toronto (CFL). Chosen for Arkansas Hall of Honor in 2012 despite being charged in 2007 with 21 felony counts involving fraud.

12: Hugh Lickiss, LB, Simpson College. Recently chosen for college's hall of fame; son wanted to be a college player, too, but instead became a professional singer after a career-ending injury.

13: Frank Kolch, QB, Eastern Michigan. Drafted after being recommended by assistant coach Woody Widenhofer, he never signed a contract and quit camp early on after telling Chuck Noll he didn't want to play any longer.

14: Bruce Henley, DB, Rice. Was cut late in camp by Steelers, then went to Jacksonville Sharks (WFL) but team folded. Now a vice president of Brock Group, a 17,000-empolyee provider of services to heavy industry clients.

15: Larry Hunt, DT, Iowa State. Didn't play in NFL, but still is regarded as one of the best linemen in Cyclones' history.

16: Octavius Morgan, LB, Illinois. Played briefly for Calgary (CFL).

17: Larry Moore, DE, Angelo State. Didn't play in NFL, still active in school's alumni functions.

By Alan Robinson
Wednesday, April 30, 2014, 10:15 p.m.
 

Jack Lambert didn't need much training camp time to realize the transition from Kent State to the NFL wouldn't be as difficult as he expected.

“Jack is sitting there in the locker room with his teeth out, a cigarette in his hand, saying, ‘When I first came here, my goal was to make the team. But now I know I'm going to start,'” former Steelers draft pick Bruce Henley said.

Lambert's confidence was mirrored by Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Mike Webster and even free agent Donnie Shell, rookies whose impact was seen, felt and heard from the day they stepped foot on St. Vincent College's campus in July 1974.

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.

“You're not thinking about those things, banging around in camp, but I knew they were good. Lynn was good, because I'd seen him play,” former Purdue linebacker Mart Gefert said. “Jack, with his demeanor and work ethic, you knew he had ‘it' — you just knew it.”

NFL veterans were on strike, so the rookies and 30 to 40 free agents had the run of camp until the labor dispute ended Aug. 10. Both Gefert and Henley said that time allowed the rookies to make an impression on coach Chuck Noll and his staff — and the other rookies.

Shell was a little-known safety from South Carolina State who somehow slid through the 17-round draft without being selected, but it quickly became evident he could play. He later made the Pro Bowl five times.

“He was full speed ahead, confident and loved to hit. He was always around the ball, and you could hear his hits ... from one end of the camp to the other,” Henley said. “The way he hit sounded different from the other players. Some of the wide receivers were intimidated.”

While that Steelers' class is largely ignored except for the Hall of Famers, two other picks had long NFL careers.

Defensive back Jimmy Allen made 31 interceptions in eight seasons, including nine in his final season with the Lions. Linebacker Charles Davis played seven seasons, all but one with the St. Louis Cardinals, and once had a five-sack playoff game against the Rams.

Gefert believes money, or the lack of it — the average salary was $56,500, and rookies made much less — contributed to the class' success.

“We were sitting around a dorm room comparing contracts, and some guys knew what guys from other teams were making,” Gefert said. “Some picks got this and that, but the Pittsburgh contracts were incentive-laden. I think we worked harder because there were incentives.”

Henley was disappointed when he was cut late in camp because, he said, ‘I came to think, ‘Man, I do have a good chance.' But when you came down to it, there were just too many good ones.”

More than any other NFL team ever had in a single draft class. The class to which all others are compared.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

 

 
 


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