Alabama native John Stallworth (1952- ) is best known for his career as an outstanding wide receiver in the National Football League (NFL) for the Pittsburgh Steelers during 14 seasons. From 1974-1987, Stallworth was a key part of four Super Bowl championship teams and played in four Pro Bowls. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002. Since retiring from football, Stallworth has had a successful business career.
John Lee Stallworth was born on July 15, 1952, in Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa County, to Mary and David Stallworth and was one of four children in the family. He grew up aspiring to play college football for his hometown team, the University of Alabama. This dream was derailed first by a temporary paralysis in his legs, which was initially diagnosed as polio, then by a mediocre high school football career. As running back and captain of his Tuscaloosa Central High School team, a squad that won only one game during his senior year, Stallworth failed to impress and was not recruited by Alabama head coach, Paul "Bear" Bryant. However, Stallworth did receive an athletic scholarship to play for Alabama A&M University, where he eventually convinced his coaches to try him at wide receiver instead of running back. This change of position was pivotal in Stallworth's career; he went on to break A&M's record for career and single-game receptions for receivers, and so far he is the only player in the school's history to be invited to play in the Senior Bowl, which selects many of the elite college football players throughout the country each year to compete in an all-star game in Mobile, Mobile County. He earned a bachelor of science degree in business and later completed a master's degree in business administration, also at Alabama A&M.
Stallworth was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fourth round of the 1974 NFL draft. Although he was relegated to a backup role in the Pittsburgh offense for most of his first three years with the team, he did contribute three receptions in the Steelers' win over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX. Stallworth became one of quarterback Terry Bradshaw's primary targets in the late 1970s and in 1979 caught 70 passes for 1,183 yards, scored eight touchdowns, and earned his first selection to the Pro Bowl. The following year, Stallworth suffered a major setback, a broken leg, after playing in only three games. Although he would be plagued by this and other injuries for the remaining years of his career, Stallworth recovered sufficiently to play and in 1984 had the best season of his career, catching 80 passes for 1,395 yards, scoring 11 touchdowns, and winning the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. Stallworth capped off this stellar season with perhaps his most famous play, a 73-yard, over-the-shoulder catch followed by a sprint to the end zone to help the Steelers win Super Bowl XIV. His catch was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the caption, "This one was really super. Stallworth makes the winning catch." Despite persistent leg and ankle injuries that often caused him to sit out games, he played three more seasons for the Steelers, eventually retiring after the 1987 season. For a time, Stallworth held the Steelers' record for most receptions (537), most receptions in a season (80), total yards receiving (8,723), most receiving yards in a season (1,395), and touchdown catches (63).
After his retirement, Stallworth moved to Brownsboro, Madison County, with his wife, Flo, whom he married in 1974, and his two children. In 1986, he founded Madison Research Corporation (MRC) with his wife and Sam Hazelrig, a retired Army engineer. The Huntsville-based company provides engineering and information science services to the U.S. and other governments as well as software development, systems design, modeling, and analysis. Washington Technology Magazine named MRC one of the 25 top minority-owned businesses in the United States. MRC also was recognized for its business ethics by the Better Business Bureau of North Alabama and earned the Huntsville/Madison County Small Business of the Year Award in 1997. Stallworth took over as CEO when Hazelrig left in 2000 and sold the company in 2006.
Stallworth now serves as head of the Huntsville-based Stallworth Foundation, which he founded in 1980 to provide scholarships and financial assistance to gifted but underprivileged students at Alabama A&M. He also has served as a United Way chairman, as chairperson of the Minority Business Council, and on the board of directors for the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame (of which he has been a member since 1989). Stallworth speaks frequently at schools, churches, and youth clubs, and in 2009 he became a part owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Jonathan W. Bolton
Published December 5, 2012
Last updated March 12, 2013