Super Bowl 50 marks the 40th anniversary of a catch that will live forever as one of the greatest, and most memorable, in NFL history. In Super Bowl X,Â a 21-17 Steelers win over the Cowboys, Lynn Swann caught four passes for 161 yards and a touchdown and became the first wide receiver to be named MVP. But his diving, stretching, contorting catch of a pass deflected by Mark Washington was, for decades, the catch against which all Super catches were compared.
Recently, Swann â€” now 63 andÂ a member of several boards of directors, including the PGA of AmericaÂ â€” spoke to Sporting News about the play, what it meant to him on the 1976 January day in Miami,Â and what itâ€™s been like to be immortalized for it well into middle age. Below is his first-person account of what he insists â€” credibly â€” wasnâ€™t even his best catch that day.
The details: With 2:53 left in the second quarter and the Cowboys leading 10-7, the Steelers faced third-and-6 at their own 10. Quarterback Terry Bradshaw completed a pass to Swann for 53 yards to the Dallas 37.
I get asked about it usually around the Super Bowl every year. And it comes up every time thereâ€™s what people consider a great catch in the regular season. People are curious what I think, or someone mentions it in comparison, and you find out that somebody hasnâ€™t heard of it, or hasnâ€™t ever seen it.
I would not be so presumptuous to say that catch never happened before. Someone has probably made a catch like that in the history of the NFL before. But maybe in the Super Bowl, in a tight game, in a game that was so back and forth and in the balance â€” no, to that point, no one had.
This game held the audience, held the TV fans, held the fans in the stadium. This was really the first Super Bowl theyâ€™d played to that point that had been that competitive. You know how the rest of them had gone so far. This was the first one that wasnâ€™t. It was living up to what it was supposed to be.
We were backed up in our end, Bradshaw called the play, I took off and he threw. And Mark Washington had really good coverage, I have to give him credit. Most great catches are great catches because someone has to compensate for a mistake, or something that wasnâ€™t quite designed correctly. And thatâ€™s when something wonderful or spectacular happens.
That was the second of his four catches. The firstÂ was a leaping 32-yarder along the right sideline midway through the first quarter, setting up theÂ touchdown that tied the game at 7-7.
My first catch was much more difficult. Number 1, the height of the ball. Number 2, Mark Washington’s coverage. Number 3, I was pinned on the sidelines. When the ball came, I was still in the air, and I had to tap it inbounds to myself to catch it. That was a much more difficult catch.
The falling-down one was a great play by Mark Washington, to knock the ball away. But (catching it) was a reaction to his not knocking it far enough away. He was right there. The only thing he could have done better was to pick it off. That wouldâ€™ve been the first best thing.
I believe I was the primary receiver on that play. But I know in my career in the National Football League that I believed I was the primary receiver on every play.
Swann was not down by contact after landing with the ball; he got up and ran five more yards before being tackled.Â
I think it was Mel Renfro that came over and made the tackle. But everyone (in the Cowboysâ€™ secondary) was where they were supposed to be.
I think players in the midst of playing the game are just aware of getting it done, and arenâ€™t aware of anything else out there on the field. I just remember going back to the huddle. I had the short walk, though, everyone else was back at the other end of the field. And then they called the next play. Probably the big difference between then and now â€” now, everyone would be celebrating and congratulating each other and drawing a lot of attention to it. We were expecting to do these things. It was just business as usual.
The Steelers didnâ€™t turn the catch into points; Roy Gerela missed a field goal, but the Cowboys had time to run only one play from their 20 before halftime.
No, we didnâ€™t (score). But we did flip around the field. That was very important.
The catch made the cover of the next weekâ€™s Sports Illustrated cover, one of its most iconic cover images ever.
I saw the cover when it came out. It was great. It was an honor. All these things came after the fact, when the gameâ€™s over. Itâ€™s not something you think about when itâ€™s happening. That was a great photographer, Heinz Kluetmeier, happened to have the lens on me, the ball was in the air, and he got it.
(Bradshaw) only threw five passes to me. I caught four of them. Mark Washington knocked one of them away for an incompletion. All the rest were contested, challenged.
You get certain opportunities to make it happen. Mark Washington was a great, great corner, who was always a tough guy to beat. In that moment, he made a great play, but I still got to it, and thatâ€™s what gets remembered. Sometimes those moments define your career. Sometimes theyâ€™re an asterisk, or now, a hashtag. Jackie Smith is a Hall of Fame player. But every time you look at that Super Bowl, the one the next year, the catch he didn’t make always pops up.
Swann, a Hall of Famer with four Super Bowl rings, was asked if that one catch defines him.
I think in many peopleâ€™s minds, it does. People have said, â€œYou always seem to rise to the occasion in big moments.â€ Thatâ€™s who I wanted to be, someone who rose to the occasion. No matter what else is going on in the game, if itâ€™s a big occasion, you can throw it to me no matter what, and Iâ€™m still gonna catch it.