Most weeks during the season, the Steeler receivers meet for dinner, and in an effort to establish even more esprit de corps, they started playing an after-dinner game last year. Each man's name was written on a slip of paper, and they were deposited, folded, in a pile. In turn, each receiver would draw a slip and portray the colleague named. Stallworth once drew Swann. "It was easiest of all to play Lynn," Stallworth says. "All I had to do was to get bubbly and keep saying, 'Hey. I've got a great idea, I've got a great idea!' " Swann had no idea whom Stall-worth was acting out, although the other receivers all recognized him immediately and broke up.
Unlike so many other hotshot Sunbelt athletes, Swann has adjusted well to his new old-world America address. He makes no bones about preferring Los Angeles—"I like the diversity there, the greater challenges and opportunities it offers me"—but he accepts Pittsburgh for what it is, a real second home. In L.A., Swann drives a Porsche and lives in a condominium near the Pacific; in Pittsburgh, he drives a Jeep and lives in a house in the suburbs.
But now he was downtown, sitting at the edge of Point Park, his legs dangling just above the water at that precise spot where the Monongahela and the Allegheny flow together to form the Ohio. "Each year I look forward to coming back here more," he said. "They're good people, and they make me feel comfortable. In a certain way, I feel that Pittsburgh is more my home.
"It's a pretty place, isn't it?" He swept his arm toward the green backdrop of hills across the rivers from downtown. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh still suffers its shabby old mill image, but it is a solid place, built upon hills and neighborhoods, a heterosexual's San Francisco—for all its sloping topography, straight in most ways. In Pittsburgh, devotion is lavished not only on the game's executives and craftsmen—the QBs, runners and pass catchers—but also on its grubbier wage earners, notably the linebackers. In Pittsburgh you can buy T shirts commemorating the local linebackers.
But then, Pittsburgh has its factory heritage, and linebackers, after all, are the foremen of football. And, too, a football team is really quite like a factory, with each job category—interior linemen, defensive secondary, suicide squad—performing a task on the assembly line. "Football is so specialized that the players are never as close as teammates in other sports," Swann says. "Why, once the season starts, we're only on the road a night at a time a few times a year."
Anyway, in Pittsburgh, in the smelters and boardrooms alike, the Pirates have lost the town to the Steelers. One reason—it is whispered—is that the Pirates field too black a nine, lacking an attractive white star since Dick Groat two decades ago. With Bradshaw and the predominantly white linebackers, this does not seem to be a problem for the Steelers.
Swann himself is, as he declares, "just not race conscious," but he has not arrived at this estate by virtue of being what glib Fourth of July orators call "color blind." On the contrary, his evenhanded tolerance derives more from his having been abused by members of both races. Color blindness tends, just like color awareness, to reveal, at best, superficiality in the eye of the beholder. Swann seems to look a bit askance when ingratiating white strangers advertise their goodwill by laying a soul handshake on the famous brother. Having been wounded by "racial games" on both sides, Swann says he is inclined to pay less attention to races and more to persons.
He was born in the segregated South in the company town of Alcoa, Tenn., but Swann never encountered Jim Crow, because his father, Willie, an airplane maintenance worker, moved the family to the Bay Area when Lynn was two. The Swanns lived a typical lower-middle-class, upwardly mobile existence: they worked, studied and paid the rent. Mrs. Swann, Mildred, went to college and rose from domestic to dental assistant. Lynn's older brother, Brian, has become a dentist. Lynn, a Baptist, won an academic scholarship to Serra High, a Catholic school, where he was one of a handful of blacks. And there, for the first time, he got mousetrapped.
He discovered that a great many of the white classmates who were his bosom pals when he was starring in sports for dear old Serra had little use for him once the season was over. Even more perplexing, Swann found that many black friends wrote him off for going to a white school and for taking on what they considered to be white airs. Even as a young child, his own cousins taunted him for "speaking properly."
It is not, understand, that Swann doesn't talk like an average uneducated ghetto black. He doesn't even talk like an average allegedly educated suburban athlete. Never does a sentence begin with "O.K.," and he has so thoroughly exorcised "you know" from his speech that now it never appears, not even in the most offhand conversation. A great deal of Swann may be described as California Golden Universal—and race is no function of this persona, only style and outlook and eternal youth. If there are two athletes Swann most brings to mind, they would be Tom Seaver and Bruce Jenner, who share with him both orderliness and panache, which rarely go together in handsome young men.