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Good Read ..Greatest draft in history .. making of a dynasty

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Steelers' class of 1974 still unrivalled

There was no TV talking head to dissect it for hours, no chat rooms to debate it, no week-after minicamp to instantly critique it.

Still, after selecting the greatest draft class in NFL history 30 years ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers were convinced they had a winner.

At least they were until they picked up the next day's newspapers.

After choosing Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster -- talk about hitting for the cycle -- the Steelers were told their 1974 draft was "incomplete." That Swann was a "sure pop," but Lambert was at best "a No. 5 linebacker, if he pans out."

The rest? "All question marks."

Perhaps that should be remembered as the NFL gears up for another draft and the mega-analysis that accompanies it: The only draft class in league history to yield four Hall of Famers was judged at the time as ordinary.

"That class was the best," said Kevin Colbert, now the Steelers' director of football operations. "That class was the standard."

That's why Colbert holds up the Class of '74 to his scouts as the textbook example of overlooking flaws to come up with stars. It's the only time a team selected more than two Hall of Famers in one draft.

Swann and Stallworth, two of the best big-game receivers in NFL history, were judged by some teams to be too slow; the Steelers retested both and got faster times. Lambert was thought to be 20 pounds too light to be an impact linebacker. Webster was supposedly too small to play in the NFL.

"None of those players were great, measurable guys," Colbert said, referring to the current trend of closely analysing 40-yard dash times and weightlifting repetitions.

The Steelers' commitment to build around the draft began when coach Chuck Noll arrived in 1969. He and player personnel chief Art Rooney Jr. were determined to make up for the mistakes of the 1960s, when former coach Buddy Parker routinely traded away nearly entire draft classes.

With Noll and Rooney running the show, the Steelers hit the lottery immediately. Their initial two first-rounders became Hall of Famers: Joe Greene in 1969 and Terry Bradshaw in 1970. By 1972, they had added three more Hall of Famers-to-be: Jack Ham, Franco Harris and Mel Blount.

The 1974 class put them over the top, helping the Steelers win the first of their four Super Bowl championships that season.

"We weren't geniuses, but we worked very hard on those drafts," Rooney said.

The Steelers' philosophy: Look for football players, not just athletes. Don't be overwhelmed by a great workout. Seek players who dominated at their level, not just in Division I. Gather extra opinions.

Their scouting improved greatly when they hired Bill Nunn, a former sports writer who had contacts at nearly every black college. Thanks largely to Nunn's efforts, many of their future stars -- Blount, Stallworth, Greene, Donnie Shell, L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White and Ernie Holmes -- came from schools with largely black enrolments or commonly overlooked by other NFL teams.

Nunn also didn't hesitate to rely on trickery.

Stallworth, an Alabama A&M wide receiver projected by most NFL teams as a defensive back, initially ran a slow 40-yard dash. But Nunn, faking an illness, stayed behind after the other scouts left, retested Stallworth and got a faster time.

To protect his secret, Nunn held onto the only film of Stallworth's best game, an 11-catch performance against Tennessee State, for weeks so no other team could watch it.

Such deception was possible because the draft was in late January, not April, and there was no central scouting combine. That helped organized teams such as the Steelers and Cowboys that scouted extensively and weren't constantly changing head coaches.

Despite the Steelers' run of excellent drafts, there was nothing to suggest on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 1974, they were about to make NFL draft history.

They were drafting so low, 21st among the 26 teams, there was media speculation they would plug holes at tight end and punter rather than seek out impact players. They didn't even have a third-rounder; Noll, going against his own philosophy, had traded it to Oakland for defensive lineman Tom Keating.

And for all their meticulous preparation, the Steelers almost didn't get Swann or Lambert.

Noll was so enamoured of Stallworth, he wanted to take him in the first round; Nunn and others convince him Stallworth would be there later. The Steelers also debated whether to take Cal linebacker Calvin Peterson rather than Lambert in the second round.

Rooney was sold on Lambert after watching him make tackles on a gravel parking lot when it was too wet for Kent State to practice on its grass field. Noll, himself a former NFL offensive lineman, felt the same way about Webster, a Wisconsin center who barely weighed 200 pounds yet bulldozed bigger players.

The Steelers were on such a roll in 1974, their luck didn't run out when the 17-round draft ended. Among their rookie free agents was Donnie Shell, a South Carolina State safety who went on to play in five Pro Bowls.

Oh, yes, that tight end the Steelers supposedly needed so badly in the first round? Randy Grossman, another rookie free agent that year, played seven seasons for Pittsburgh.

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The Steelers' philosophy: Look for football players, not just athletes. Don't be overwhelmed by a great workout. Seek players who dominated at their level, not just in Division I. Gather extra opinions.

THE key right here. Alot of great players are going to get overlooked because of .03 seconds on a stopwatch. The first question you have to ask is, "Is he a football player." Everything beyond that is secondary, IMO.

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