Gold Jacket Spotlight: Jack Lambert Wanted Respect, Not Popularity

Intense. Smart. Competitive.

Coaches, teammates, opponents and writers have used these three adjectives consistently to describe JACQUES LAMBERTPro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1990.

Jack, that the president of the Steelers DAN ROONEY declared “took us to greatness,” this week enters 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 fulfill his desire to play in the NFL. Jack contacted Steelers linebacker coach and eventual defensive coordinator Woody Widenhofer to ask for the opportunity to travel to Pittsburgh to learn the team’s defenses. Jack purposely made the two-hour drive to Pittsburgh often before any formal training.

“Something like this had never happened to me before. I don’t think that ever happened,” Widenhofer mused as he considered accepting Jack’s request.

Columnist Dave Anderson wrote, “Jack Lambert is a coaches joy. He is a very intense footballer. From his first day at 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 even though it was his first season.

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

Jack’s efforts led to him being named the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year, which earned him this observation from Steelers defensive coordinator Bud Carson: “Jack Lambert, without a doubt, was the catalyst. He was the one who turned this very good football team – defensive team – into an excellent defensive team.

Throughout Jack’s career, many have spoken out about his intimidating presence.

Writing for the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Peter Pascarelli remarked, “Jack Lambert doesn’t stand behind the defensive line. He sits there. Jack Lambert does not chase running backs. He tracks them down.

Author Chuck Klosterman thought, “He was definitely the most intimidating player on a pretty intimidating team,” while Buffalo Bills coach Chuck Knox offered, “When Lambert is on the court, everything goes in his leadership.”

More directly, Anderson asserted, “Jack Lambert plays football like Attila the Hun ransacked the 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 that I think he would be a great football manager,” Rooney said. Carson added: “He’s a thinker as well as a an actor.”

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

Brian Sipe, the Cleveland Browns’ division rival quarterback, once said, “There were times when I felt like Jack Lambert was in our little group, 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 article noted, “In a game of angles and position, he never took the wrong step and was always the most focused man on field.

Playing his entire professional career in Pittsburgh, Jack was named NFL 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 adjectives describing this Pro Football Hall of Fame legend.