He was one of the best high school football players in Delaware history, and he played on one of the best teams in Delaware history. That’s why it was so hard to believe that Pedro Swann had died at the oh-so-young age of 68.
Swann, who passed away on May 11, was a great all-around athlete at Newark High who won state championships in track and was also an All-Stater in baseball. But it was his exploits in football that made most of the headlines in the late 1960s. The Yellowjackets went undefeated in his senior season as they put together a 33-game winning streak, led by the three-headed monster of Swann, Gary Hayman and Bob Tucker. Anyone who has followed Delaware high school football over the last 50 years knows they were the heart of one of the best teams this state has ever seen.
Actually, there were three great high school football teams in 1968 – Newark, Salesianum and Middletown. Newark had beaten Middletown 19-6 the previous year to end the Cavaliers’ record 53-game winning streak. And Sallies also beat Middletown in 1967, just one year after the Cavaliers pulled off the biggest upset in state history by beating the Sals in their historic inaugural meeting.
Sallies also beat Middletown in ’68, and that Sallies team – led by Mike Webb, Kevin Reilly and Chuck Marioni — was an undefeated powerhouse and one of the top teams in the Sals’ long and illustrious history. So, there was no question that Newark and Salesianum were the two best teams in the state. But there was no state tournament back then, so there was no way for the two schools to prove which was better.
That, obviously, was a shame. But Newark did earn some bragging rights in the Blue-Gold All-Star game played that following summer. The Gold team, which was packed with Newark players, including, of course, Swann, clobbered the Sallies-heavy Blue team 44-0. Newark players scored all of the Gold team’s points, with Hayman catching seven passes for 202 yards and three touchdowns.
I was at that game and, as a Sallies guy, it’s hard for me to admit, but that Newark team would have beaten my Salesianum team. The Yellowjackets’ speed and athleticism, along with terrific coaching by the late, great Bob Hoffman, made them not only the best team that year, but one of the best of any year.
Swann didn’t have the post-high school success that his two partners enjoyed, at least at the highest levels. Hayman got a scholarship to Penn State and battled injuries before finally starring for the Nittany Lions as a wide receiver, running back and punt returner. In his final two seasons, Hayman caught 44 passes for 730 yards and three touchdowns, and in his senior season he rushed for 163 yards on 31 carries and scored a TD. He also led the nation in punt returning that season, averaging 19.2 yards per return on Joe Paterno’s undefeated team. Hayman was drafted in the fifth round as a running back by Buffalo in 1974 and he played in 15 games with the Bills, with 17 carries for 61 yards as a back-up to O.J. Simpson, and 25 punt returns for 216 yards, an average of 8.5 yards per return. Eventually, a broken leg ended his career, and today he’s a member of the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame.
Tucker didn’t play in the NFL and he didn’t see a lot of playing time at Maryland, although he lettered for three seasons. He saw his only real action in 1970, when he played in 11 games and completed 35 of 82 passes for 645 yards, with three touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Terps’ quarterback position was then taken over by Bob Avellini, who led the ACC in passing and went on to have an eight-year career in the NFL with the Chicago Bears.
But Swann turned his attention to another love, baseball. He played for Delaware State, and as a freshman, he was eighth in the nation in hitting, at .471. But he left school and the big leagues didn’t come calling. So, Swann got a job as a chemical technician for the DuPont Co., and played for a while in the Delaware Semi-Pro League like a lot of other college and high school stars who still love to play the game. He also coached youth football and baseball teams and Pedro Swann settled into a normal life as husband and father.
His son, Pedro Swann Jr., took things a couple of steps farther. He also starred in baseball at Delaware State and then was drafted in the 26thround by the Atlanta Braves in the 1991 June amateur draft. Swann Jr. played in the minor leagues for 17 years and got a few cups of big-league coffee with Atlanta, Toronto and Baltimore, ending with a total of 25 games and 28 at-bats.
His Dad never made it to the big leagues, but he was one of the greatest athletes of his generation in Delaware. And even though Pedro Swann Sr. is gone, he’s certainly not forgotten by anybody who saw him carry a football or hit a baseball or stride over a hurdle. He could do it all, and he did.