Swann attended the University of Southern California, where he was an All-American on the Trojans football team. He played under legendary coach John McKay, including the 1972 undefeated and national championship season. McKay said of Swann, “He has speed, soft hands, and grace.” He completed a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Public Relations in 1974. In 1993, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Swann was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 21st pick of the first round in the 1974 NFL Draft. The Steelers draft class of ’74 is considered one of the best in NFL history and included 4 eventual Hall of Famers: Swann, John Stallworth, Mike Webster, and Jack Lambert.
Swann spent his entire NFL career with the Steelers and wore the jersey number 88. As a rookie, he led the NFL with 577 punt return yards, a franchise record and the fourth most in NFL history at the time. He went on to win a championship ring with the Steelers in Super Bowl IX but did not record any receptions in the tough defensive struggle (Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw completed only nine passes in the game). However, he returned 3 punts for 34 yards.
The following season became the highlight of Swann’s career. He caught 49 passes for 781 yards and a league-leading 11 touchdowns. In the AFC title game against the Oakland Raiders George Atkinson cheap shotted Swann with a vicious hit. He suffered a severe concussion that forced him to spend two days in a hospital, but surprised many by returning to play for Super Bowl X. Swann recorded four catches for a Super Bowl record 161 yards and a touchdown in the game, assisting the Steelers to a 21–17 win and becoming the first wide receiver to earn Super Bowl MVP honors.
Swann was unique among football players in that he credited his experiences in dance earlier in life with contributing to his aptitude on the football field. A 1981 interview which aired on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood showed him on the field, and then in the Pittsburgh dance studio where he later underwrote scholarships.
Three seasons later the Steelers made it to Super Bowl XIII. In the game, Swann caught seven passes for 124 yards and scored the final touchdown for Pittsburgh in their 35–31 win over the Dallas Cowboys. The Steelers made it back to the Super Bowl again in the 1979 season, and Swann caught five passes for 79 yards and a touchdown in Pittsburgh’s 31–19 win in Super Bowl XIV. Overall, Swann gained 364 receiving yards and 398 all-purpose yards in his four Super Bowls, which were both Super Bowl records at the time.
Swann retired after the 1982 season with four Super Bowl rings. He amassed 336 career receptions for 5,462 yards and 51 touchdowns, along with 72 rushing yards, a rushing touchdown, and 739 punt return yards and a touchdown. He was a pro bowl selection three times (1975, 1977, 1978) and was selected on the 1970s all-decade team.
Swann was named an All-Pro Team Selection in 1975, 1977, and 1978. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001, a year before his teammate John Stallworth. He was also selected to the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team by Hall of Fame voters. On January 11, 1983 Swann announced his retirement from the Steelers.
Swann went on to serve as a director on the boards of H J Heinz Co., Hershey Entertainment and Resorts and Wyndham International. He was a football and sports broadcaster for ABC Sports from 1976–2006, but left to run for Pennsylvania governor.
During his time at ABC, Lynn Swann began his broadcasting career in 1976 while still active with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Upon retirement in January, 1983, Swann began his career full-time with ABC Sports, which ended after the 2006 Orange Bowl. Swann has broadcast a variety of events as a host, reporter, and analyst. Included in these events are: the 1976 Winter Olympics, the 1976 Summer Olympics, the 1980 Winter Olympics, the 1984 Winter Olympics, the 1984 Summer Olympics, the 1988 Winter Olympics, the Iditarod Trail sled dog race, International Diving Championships, USFL, college football and Monday Night Football, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, the Irish Derby, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, and Curt Gowdy’s The American Sportsman
Swann made an appearance, playing himself in the role of a sideline reporter at the “Bourbon Bowl”, in the 1998 Adam Sandler comedy feature film The Waterboy.