You can bet Grambling product Frank Lewis, himself part of Pittsburgh’s first two Super Bowl-winning teams, was cheering the modern-day Steelers to their second title in four seasons.
He was there as the club began building toward its current status as an unrivalled NFL power, owners now of a league-best six Super Bowls.
“I feel good about being part of turning something like that around,” Lewis told me. “We started a dynasty, and improved the franchise from something that for 40 years hadn’t won a championship. Now, people expected us to win. Then, they started getting upset if we weren’t winning by enough points!”
Lewis was the Steelers’ leading receiver by 1974, as Pittsburgh marched to a 16-6 victory over Minnesota in Super Bowl IX at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. A season later, the Steelers beat Dallas 21-17 in Super Bowl X at Miami.
Lewis left for a Pro Bowl-stint with Buffalo, as fellow receivers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann came into their own in the Pittsburgh offense. He would finish his pro career with 397 receptions for 6,724 yards and 40 touchdowns. Not big numbers, coming as they did in an era before the passing pyrotechnics of today. Still, Lewis was the first player in league history to gain 100 yards receiving in postseason games for two different clubs.
“Pittsburgh was known for its defense, with the offense complimenting it. We were ball control, and focused on not making a lot of mistakes,” said Lewis, inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2006 and then the Southwestern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame in 2008. “It was more of a team effort, with everybody doing their part. You just tried to be as effective as possible.”
Lewis, now working with the disadvantaged in workforce development in his hometown of Houma, La., was always that. His late coach, the legendary Eddie Robinson, once said: “When Frank was right, Grambling was right.”
As a sophomore, Lewis helped GSU to a 1968 conference crown. A year later, the brilliantly versatile Lewis was the program’s leading receiver (with 31 catches for 607 yards) and rusher (145 attempts for 786 yards). He then led all receivers with 25 catches for 411 yards as a senior.
A three-time All-SWAC wingback, Lewis finished with 42 touchdowns at Grambling. Over his final two seasons, he led the conference in scoring.
That convinced Pittsburgh to select Lewis in the first round of the 1971 NFL Draft, No. 8 overall.
“We had come off a 1-13 record the year before,” Lewis told me. “Then, we were 8-6. You could see the turnaround from there, where the team was going. You could see it building up.”
Frank Lewis was a big part of that.