Peanut butter and jelly. Abbott and Costello. The Pittsburgh Steelers and a rapid increase in your blood pressure every Sunday. Some of the world’s truest reliable duos.
That got me to thinking. Who are the best tandems in Steelers’ history? A dynamic duo who dominated the league. If one guy didn’t make the play, the other did. With such a long and storied history, it was difficult to come up with a list. But here’s my order of the top ten in black and gold. These are all players who played the same position, weighed by individual talent and the success shared together. So you won’t see, for example, QB to WR combinations on this list because if I did, that’s basically all this list would consist of (Bradshaw to Swann, Bradshaw to Stallworth, Ben to Ward, Ben to Brown, you get the idea). And these are duos only. Buddy system here, only pairs of two, not three or more.
#1: WRs Lynn Swann & John Stallworth (1974-1982)
Swann and Stallworth. Of course they’re #1.
Ok, maybe it’s not that obvious. Jack Ham and Jack Lambert easily could’ve been in this position. Maybe I’m a little bias, swept up in the highlights of the skill positions. But when I, and probably you, think of a “tandem” in Steelers history, Swann and Stallworth are the first names who come to mind.
Being drafted together helps. Swann was the All-Star everyone knew about, taken 21st overall in 1974. Stallworth was much more unknown, a small school prospect from Alabama A&M, who ran a poor 40 time on a slick track at his Pro Day. You probably know the story by now. He was one of Bill Nunn’s hidden gems and stayed after all other scouts left to get a more accurate 40 time. The Steelers liked him as much as Swann but waited until the 4th round to select him.
Both made minimal impacts as rookies, though Swann did some damage as a returner, but compelled the offense to play its strengths and have a bigger passing influence on the offense. Swann cracked the lineup in ’75, leading the league with 11 touchdown receptions (more than the rest of the team combined). Stallworth chipped in with four and though he caught just 20 passes, turned in big play after big play.
By the time the Steelers won their final two Super Bowls to complete the dynasty, the offense went through 88 and 82 as much as it did the backs. Stallworth became the third receiver in team history to crack the 1000 yard mark with his 1183 yard campaign in ’79 while Swann again hit the 11 touchdown figure in 1978.
Stallworth proved to have a more productive career on the box score, in part due to the frequency of pass attempts as the game moved into the 80s, but both were capable of making the did-you-see-that type plays. Two tipped, diving catches from each of them. Swann’s, of course, is much more memorable.
Swann’s career numbers look underwhelming but he seemed to make every catch count. He caught a touchdown every 6.6 receptions. Better numbers than Hines Ward (11.7), Antonio Brown (17.2), and Stallworth (8.5). When Stallworth retired, he held every team receiving record by country wide margins.
Two all-stars, Hall of Famers, perennial Super Bowl winners, and for this list, the #1 tandem in Steelers’ history.
Top Ten Tandems
#10: DTs Ernie Stautner & Big Daddy Lipscomb (1961-1962)
#9: OGs Ramon Foster & David DeCastro (2012-Present)
#8: CBs Mel Blount & JT Thomas (1973-1981)
#7: RB/RET Lynn Chandnois & Ray Mathews (1951-1956)
#6: DEs LC Greenwood & Dwight White (1971-1980)
#5: FS/SS Ryan Clark & Troy Polamalu (2006-2013)
#4: RBs Franco Harris & Rocky Bleier (1972-1980)
#3: OLBs James Harrison & LaMarr Woodley (2007-2012)
#2: LBs Jack Lambert & Jack Ham (1974-1982)
#1: WRs Lynn Swann & John Stallworth (1974-1980)