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Stallworth: "I was blessed with the opportunity"

Posted Oct 23, 2013

John Stallworth is thankful for the opportunity he received at Alabama A&M.

Related News: Stallworth part of Black College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2014

As a kid John Stallworth never realized how far playing football would take him. He was a standout at Tuscaloosa High School, despite the fact that his team won only two games in his last two seasons.

His dream was to go to college, but his parents couldn’t afford the tuition, and schools weren’t banging on his door offering him scholarships. That was until Alabama A&M University came along, a school that saw something special in Stallworth and helped change his life.  

“It was the only offer I had to play college football,” said Stallworth. “It’s special I had the chance to play college ball and set the stage to play professional football because of my association with Alabama A&M University.”

Stallworth flourished at Alabama A&M, one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), where he was a two-time All-SIAC selection (1972-73). And today he was honored when the Black College Football Hall of Fame announced that he is one of seven members of their Class of 2014 that will be inducted during the Fifth Annual Enshrinement Ceremony in conjunction with Black College Football Weekend.

“It’s special in that I came out of the black college system and I look at the list of guys already in that Hall of Fame, guys that are part of my class, and it’s the names of people I have a lot of respect for,” said Stallworth. “A lot of them are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”

Stallworth is one of those that came out of the ranks of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities to find success in the NFL. He was drafted by the Steelers in 1974, was part of a receiver tandem with Lynn Swann that set the standard for years to come, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

If it weren’t for the efforts of long-time Steelers scout Bill Nunn, a former sports editor for the Pittsburgh Courier who named the Courier’s Black College All-American team, Stallworth might have never been on the team’s radar.

“Bill is a very special person to me,” said Stallworth, part of the Steelers ownership group. “He put my name and game film in front of the people in Pittsburgh. The opportunity Bill gave a lot of us, the guys he named to his Black College All-American team that put their names in front of a lot of people in the NFL. He is a special guy. He was traveling to a lot of these out of the way schools that nobody paid attention to and he gave our names to teams like Pittsburgh that were willing to give guys from a small college an opportunity.”

While things have changed since Stallworth played in the 1970s, and opportunities for athletes from all schools have grown, he will always hold special his time and the challenge he faced making it from Alabama A&M.

“If you look back on it that was the only opportunity a lot of us had at that time,” said Stallworth. “Unfortunately that is the way things were. I was blessed with the opportunity. I believe if you talk to any number of guys that played at black colleges and are a part of this Hall of Fame, they wouldn’t change a thing. The experience they had at the black colleges is very near and dear to them, as it is with me, and we wouldn’t change a thing.  

“The emphasis on black colleges as far as athletics is starting to diminish because kids are going wherever now. It was a special time and I hate to see it fade. I hope it doesn’t. I hope there is always an opportunity for athletes like myself who won’t get an opportunity to play at a big school, but will have the opportunity to have their education paid for at a small school, including black colleges, that have football programs.”

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