Steelers’ legendary 1974 rookie class becomes more legendary

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The 1974 class of Steelers rookies already was extremely impressive. It’s now even more impressive, with the addition of safety Donnie Shell to the Hall of Fame.

Shell becomes the fifth Hall of Famer who arrived in Pittsburgh that year, joining receiver Lynn Swann (first round), linebacker Jack Lambert (second round), receiver John Stallworth (fourth round), and center Mike Webster (fifth round). The difference is that Shell wasn’t drafted at all — at a time when the draft had 17 rounds. At 26 teams, that’s 442 players who were chosen without Shell being among them.

As explained by Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the late Bill Nunn (who should be in Canton, too) discovered Shell at South Carolina State. He picked the Steelers over the Broncos and Oilers.

Shell didn’t instantly become a star for the Steelers. As explained by Rutter, former Steelers cornerbacks Mel Blount and J.T. Thomas were monitoring the team during the 1974 preseason strike.

“Mel and I were watching and said, ‘Who’s that in the secondary?'” Thomas told Rutter. “We can strike another two months here. He’s not going to make the ballclub. He’s gone.”

Shell’s hard-hitting style helped him contribute on special teams, and he worked hard to improve his ball skills. And he went from not being able to catch very well to setting the NFL’s interception record for strong safeties, with 51.

He also won the first of four Super Bowl rings as a rookie, remaining in Pittsburgh through 1987 and, 33 years later, finally getting a bronze bust in Canton, along with the four other 1974 rookies whose roster spots were far more secure from the get-go than Shell’s.

22 responses to “Steelers’ legendary 1974 rookie class becomes more legendary

  1. I second that nomination for Bill Nunn, who belongs in the Hall of Fame ahead of these players. Bill is responsible for stars from small black colleges not only going to the Steelers but the entire league. Thanks to Nunn we got Walter Payton and Jackie Slater. Pittsburgh was extremely fortunate to have him around.

  2. STEELER haters gonna hate even when it is unfounded. There are plenty of deserving STEELERS being held out because of that bias. Alan Faneca should be in but he won’t make it his year because he is a STEELER.

  3. The reason Drew Pearson isn’t in the Hall is because the Cowboys didn’t beat the Steelers. If they did, the roles would be reversed.

  4. I still dont think Lynn Swann was a HOF player. If only rings matter then half of the Steelers (and even backups) would be in. Swann’s stats are pedestrian at best. I hate the Cowboys but Drew Pearson was a better WR, ..and Swanns in over him? Harold Carmichael just got in and at his retirement time he was the leading WR in most stats. Bout time ge got in!

  5. luke8512 says:
    January 19, 2020 at 11:31 am
    Is it me or is there a bit of Steeler favoritism when it comes to getting into the Hall?
    No doubt about it. It’s just you…

  6. You can’t compare era’s, would Swann get in today, no. But a lot of players in the hall, wouldn’t be in today based on their numbers. Nunn deserves to be in.

  7. Comparing numbers is ridiculous. On that basis no QBs or WRs could compare to numbers today and therefore wouldn’t be deserving. To say that is nonsense. Swann twice led the league in TD receptions with 11 (tied one year). He regularly finished in the top ten in receptions, yards and avg. The thing that stands out with Swann is the big plays…especially in the Super Bowl. He also led the league in punt return yardage as a rookie. He was far from a one-dimensional player. He was also selected All-Pro three times.

  8. rustbelt, steroids weren’t banned till 89, yes Steelers players used them, as did other players from other teams, as they weren’t illegal!! And your nonsense that you continually post about Dr Rydze, no evidence ever found, investigations never found evidence, that he provided steroids to players. I get being a bengals fan, you have nothing to post, but hate towards the Steelers, because they own the bengals. what are you a “dr” in, must be nonsense!

  9. rustbelt is mad because even with the bengals on steroids, they still couldn’t beat anybody.

  10. Steelers’ fans always living in the past. That’s all they got. The future is dim.

  11. Love the haters slithering in to whine every time another Steeler gets inducted. “Waaah! Too many Pittsburgh guys in.” Hey, not our fault we had the greatest team ever assembled in football history.

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