It was September 25, 1976 when we pulled up outside the Steeler offices at Three Rivers Stadium. I had an appointment, and waited in the lobby for Joe Gordon, then the head of public relations for the team. I was there as a 11 year old boy. I had my name drawn from a promotion at Kaufman’s to be the Steeler’s “mascot of the week.” I was Charlie, with a golden ticket to Mr. Wonka’s place. I will, at some future time, write about the whole glorious experience, but for now I want to focus on those first few minutes.
My eyes, of course, were like saucers as I took in that lobby. This was the headquarters of Mecca, the inner sanctum of my people, the heartbeat of my heart’s true love. And, of course, a lobby in an office. As we waited I heard footsteps coming our way. Was it Mr. Gordon? Would the tour be about to start?
No, it wasn’t Mr. Gordon. Carrying a pair of cleats, sweatpants drawstring tied around his neck, smile on his face- Lynn Swann. Keep in mind this is roughly eight months since his MVP performance in Super Bowl X. This was my absolute hero. He smiled at me and said “hello.” That, of course, would have been enough. My hero greeted me. But then he did the most surprising thing- he sat down beside me, and engaged me in a conversation. Twenty minutes he sat there, asking me about my hobbies, my midget football career, how I felt about their chances the next day.
He didn’t toss me his jersey after I gave him my Coke. He didn’t drop jaw-dropping wisdom on me. He didn’t promise to catch a td for me the next day. He just talked to me, patiently, kindly, gently, and it certainly seemed, sincerely. He didn’t have to do any of that. There were no cameras around. There were no reporters near by. He wasn’t canvassing for a vote. He was just doing something nice, and making a memory that I carry with me now over forty years later.
Lynn Swann, I’m confident, has no memory of the event whatsoever. Some might see that as reason to doubt, to think his heart wasn’t in it. I see it differently. He doesn’t remember that conversation because, I suspect, he had hundreds just like them through the years. What was extraordinary to me was ordinary to him. And that is a good thing.
It can be done. You can be a superstar, and still be a kind man. Swanneee- how we love ‘ya.