Gold Jacket Spotlight: Jack Lambert sought respect, not popularity

Intense. Intelligent. Competitive.

Coaches, teammates, opponents and writers used those three adjectives consistently when describing JACK LAMBERT, Pro Football Hall of Famer, Class of 1990.

Jack, whom Steelers President DAN ROONEY declared “took us to greatness,” this week steps into the Gold Jacket Spotlight.

Immediately after the Steelers selected Jack in the second round of the 1974 NFL Draft, they learned the Kent State University linebacker possessed an above average commitment to fulfilling his desire to play in the NFL. Jack contacted the Steelers’ linebacker coach and eventual defensive coordinator, Woody Widenhofer, to request the opportunity travel to Pittsburgh to learn the team’s defenses. Jack willingly made the two-hour drive to Pittsburgh often prior to any formal practices.

“Something like this had never happened to me before. I don’t think it ever happened,” mused Widenhofer while reflecting upon accepting Jack’s request.

Columnist Dave Anderson wrote, “Jack Lambert is a joy to the coaches. He is a very intense football player. From his first day in training camp, he earned the respect of his teammates. You don’t mess with Jack Lambert in practice, in a game, whatever.”

A 1975 article in The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer noted that, “Jack never sat on the bench during his football career at Mantua (Crestwood High School), and with the Kent State Golden Flashes. He said he was determined not to sit on the bench with the Steelers though it was his first season.”

A preseason injury to linebacker Henry Davis resulted in Jack’s insertion to the starting lineup his rookie season. NFL Films described this turn of events: “When inside linebacker Henry Davis was injured, a terror was released.”

Jack’s efforts resulted in him being named the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year, earning this observation from Steelers’ defensive coordinator Bud Carson: “Jack Lambert, without question, was the catalyst. He was the guy that turned this from a very good football team – defensive team – to a great defensive team.”

Throughout Jack’s career, many opined about his intimidating presence.

Writing for the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Peter Pascarelli remarked, “Jack Lambert doesn’t stand behind the defensive line. He looms there. Jack Lambert doesn’t chase ball carriers. He stalks them.”

Author Chuck Klosterman believed, “He was certainly the most intimidating player on a pretty intimidating team,” while Buffalo Bills coach Chuck Knox offered, “When Lambert is on the field, everything goes his direction.”

More directly, Anderson asserted, “Jack Lambert plays football the way Attila the Hun sacked villages.”

Jack’s commitment to excellence included his preparation and desire to expand his knowledge of the game with his results being noted within the Steelers’ organization and by other Clubs.

“He’s a very bright guy. I’ve told him more than once I think he’d be a great football coach,” Rooney said. Carson added, “He’s a thinker as well as a doer.”

Teammate Jack Ham told Post-Gazette writer Ron Cook, “Contrary to that rough and tough image he likes to project, he was a picture-perfect player,” and on another occasion stated, “That man (Jack) revolutionized the position of middle linebacker.”

Division rival Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Sipe once said, “There were times when I felt like Jack Lambert was in our huddle, listening to our plays. He always seemed to know what we were going to do.”

Klosterman observed, “He (Jack) was an extremely intellectual linebacker. His greatest strength was his mind,” and an NFL Films piece remarked, “In a game of angles and position, he never took the wrong step and was always the most focused man on the field.”

Playing his entire professional career in Pittsburgh, Jack was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1976 and 1979 and played in nine consecutive Pro Bowls. He finished his career with 28 interceptions and 17 fumble recoveries.

Jack was a member of the Steelers’ Super Bowl IX, X, XIII and XIV teams, adding “champion” to the adjectives describing this Pro Football Hall of Fame legend.