It is not a matter of Swann being a different sort of football player. It is more the other way round, that the strangest aspect to his being is that he plays this fierce, tumultuous war sport. In his childhood, his heroes were not athletes but just entertainers and swashbucklers. When he learned he had been drafted by Pittsburgh, all he knew about the Steelers was that there was a black guy on the team with an Italian name and they had "nice-looking uniforms."
Just as his agent says that Swann "transcends" race, so in many of the right ways is the manly Swann temperamentally androgynous. Indeed, his mother longed that he, the last of her three children, would be a girl, and hoping that wishing would make it so, she had no boy's names on tap. So she named the baby after Dr. Lynn Curtis, because she liked the obstetrician and his name. So does the recipient. He has been advised that Lynn means a love of life, Curtis refers to courtesy, and Swann signifies beauty and grace. The superfluous double letter at the end of his surname—shades of old Jimmy Foxx—indicates, Swann has been told, some kind of special extra power. Has any athlete ever carried a name so befitting? Stripteasers lie awake at night trying to dream up apt stage names. Even Swann's number is appropriate: double eights to match the double ns. Eight beats is a base number for dance; 88 keys on the piano. "I've always seen myself as put to music," Swann says.
His mother introduced him to dance, his older brother Calvin to sports. He was a natural at both, and he would tag after Calvin and try whatever games his brother was playing. So, from the first, Lynn was invariably among the smallest players and he learned to play the bigger boys' game and not be intimidated by foolish size. Oh yes, he does too see everybody waiting for him over the middle, but if fate has made you a baton, then twirl yourself onto center stage. "Whenever I come to the huddle late in a game," Swann says, "I want my team to know, 'Hey, I may have been out there alone all day, doing nothing, but I'll be ready for you when you need me for the big play.' "
Significantly, he then finds a show-business metaphor to explain this better, saying, "If I ever have my own TV special, I know exactly how I'm going to open—with The Ugly Duckling from Hans Christian Andersen: 'There once was an ugly duckling, with feathers all dirty and brown.' That's me."
But you were never ugly. "Yeah, but I was always the smallest, so I had to learn to play a smarter game. It's the same sort of thing. And I'll come out in this feathery costume and stumble all around, and then I'll break out of that and I'll be dancing in white tie and tails."
When Swann showed up at the Steelers' camp this summer, a couple weeks late because of the trial in San Francisco, an adoring fan was waiting there for his return. She watched him run extra sprints after practice. Chuck Noll is a football coach, and this player was late reporting; don't tell me about trials, plagues, famines, earthquakes, nuclear holocausts, we have a football camp to run here. The coach had Swann running laps till he dropped. And Swann did as he was bid, smiling after the pain. He loves football. He really does. It's part of his life, isn't it?
The lady watched him, and she said, "Now it's sunny and 88 again in Pittsburgh."