In the summer of 2010, my first book will be coming out in stores entitled “100 Things Every Steelers Fan Should Know Before They Die.” The book, which is being published by Triumph Books, will be in stores next Summer and will retail for $14.95. We will have ordering info through Amazon as soon as it becomes available.
In the meantime, through the offseason, we’ll give Steelers Gab readers a sneak peek of some chapters of the book. Today is chapter 13, which talks about the greatest middle linebacker that ever played the game – Jack Lambert. Enjoy!
While the Steelers have long been known for linebackers, there is no question that when fans begin that conversation, it starts with one man – Jack Lambert. The Steelers middle linebacker who wore #58 was a force for a dynasty in the 70’s, and all this from a man who was deemed too small and was actually recruited to play quarterback in college at Kent State University. Lambert was part of the historic 1974 draft class that produced four Hall of Famers, and it didn’t take long upon his arrival to make an impact for a team that was ready to start a string of title runs.
As a rookie, Lambert was reported to be about 6’3 and 203 pounds – hardly an imposing sight to most offensive linemen or running backs that would gun for him early in his career. But make no mistake about it, Lambert never let his size, or what was perceived to be a lack of it, get in his way of being the greatest linebacker in Steeler history.
The chance for Lambert to be a force came right away in his rookie season, as he took over for injured Steeler linebacker Henry Davis. That injury paved the way for Lambert to stay as the teams middle linebacker for 11 seasons, 9 of which were Pro Bowl seasons for #58. His rookie season he was the NFL Rookie of the Year, and he was the missing piece for the Steelers to make and win their first Super Bowl over the Minnesota Vikings 16-6.
What made Lambert so special was his ability against both the run and pass. He was equally as dangerous on both sides, punishing running backs when they hit the hole, and hitting quarterbacks when he rushed and even showing great hands with picking off 28 career passes in his career. It was as if no matter what came Lambert’s way – he was great at it.
The Steelers already had players like Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Andy Russell, Ernie Holmes, and Jack Ham, yet at the end of the day, Lambert seemed to be the one that teams wanted little or nothing to do with on Sunday. “If I was ever in a bar-room brawl and needed one man to go back-to-back with me, I’d want Jack Lambert to be the man,” Greene said of his teammate. “This is one rough, tough guy…someone who’ll never give up.”
The legend of Lambert and the Steelers defense of the 70’s grew and grew. Lambert going through offensive players with a vampire like look was a sight to behold during the Steeler dynasty of the 70’s. He was not shy about his dislike of quarterbacks and felt the league did too much to protect them. He stated once that quarterbacks should “all wear dresses.”
It was pretty easy to see why Lambert was so successful as the leader of the Steelers intimating defense. He was in on just about every play. Lambert made it his duty it seemed like to hit someone each and every play on each and every Sunday. It was his after the play throw down of Cowboys safety Cliff Harris in Super Bowl X that seemed to turn the spirit of the game around. It came after Steelers kicker Roy Gerela missed a field goal, and Harris tapped him on the helmet. Not allowing anyone to get the better of his team, Lambert flung Harris down, almost getting himself thrown out of the championship game.
His coach, Chuck Noll, even defended the move. “Jack Lambert is a defender of what is right,” Noll said in the postgame of the title win about the bold move by Lambert. Noll always came to the defense of his middle linebacker, even as those around the NFL at the time including commissioner at the time Pete Rozelle, questioned if he was a dirty player. It was after what was classified as three late hits on Browns quarterback Brian Sipe that Rozelle had a meeting with Lambert over his play.
Nevertheless, no one could deny that Lambert was a game changer, and a player that always defended himself and his hard nosed style of play. “All that stuff upsets me, because I’m not a dirty football player. I don’t sit in front of my locker thinking of fighting or hurting somebody,” Lambert said in an interview in 1984 with Sports Illustrated. “All I want to do is be able to play football hard and aggressively, the way it’s meant to be played. But when someone deliberately clips me or someone comes off the bench and tries to bait me, I’m not going to stand for it. I will be no man’s punching bag.”
And he never was.
His Hall of Fame career ended with 1,479 tackles, 1049 of which were solo, and 23.5 sacks. He was named to nine straight Pro Bowls, and even was the 1976 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Known as “Count Dracula in Cleats,” Lambert to this day is still considered by many as the greatest middle linebacker in NFL history.
Lambert’s career came to a halt in 1984 due to a severe case of turf toe, which took away his speed and ability to close in on ball carries like he did earlier in his career. He hung the cleats up for good in 84, and to this day leads a very private life with his wife and children away from the NFL spotlight.
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