Fans love and want offense, but die-hards love defense and players like Jordan Zumwalt

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

He doesn't make it pretty. He makes it rough. Steelers linebacker Jordan Zumwalt is a reminder of what ignites passion in fans for the concepts of defense, something that's been true throughout history.

"The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten." 
-Calvin Coolidge

The aggressors aren't usually endearing. From literature to the legal system, those who attack are usually cast in less heroic of a light than those who defend.

Captain America attacked the Red Skull, but he was defending America, his primary attacking weapon, a shield - the epitome of defense. Beowulf attacked Grendel then protected the Danes from Grendel's mom. He would later die protecting the Geats from a dragon.

Steelers Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert attacked the attackers - the quarterbacks - and had little time for their whining. He endeared fans with comments about donning female clothing to go along with rules implemented to protect quarterbacks - the ultimate aggressors in sports.

Lambert wasn't the first crazed, single-minded and ruthless defender. He would come to be the face of the tough side of the hypocycloids, and that face bore only a few teeth. No offensive player could have Lambert's face, or his attitude, and have fans become so charmed, so endeared toward his ways.

Crazed, out of control linebackers are fan favorites. Fans want offense; die-hards want defense. It becomes a paradox from literature. Rock 'n Roll used to be the sound of rebellion, the method through which people expressed hot emotion speaking out against the status quo.

Disco was the quarterback; rock was Lambert.

The Steelers didn't draft the next Jack Lambert when they selected UCLA's Jordan Zumwalt in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He has neither the lanky frame nor the incomprehensible level of toughness. But he does have crazy. Passion and defense fit together as naturally as Three Rivers and championships.

Forget Zumwalt's 40 time. You'll remember his 40 experience from the Combine.

He dropped, by my count, five F-bombs, both during and immediately after running the 40-yard-dash, causing NFL Network analyst to wisely (and hilariously) deduce, "He wasn't happy with that."

For all we know, Zumwalt may just have been pissed he didn't get to hit anyone at the end of his run.

Those kinds of fake storylines go with the defensive players, particularly the ones who wear their football hearts on their Under Armor. In 2013, Syracuse safety Shamarko Thomas tripped at the end of his Combine 40, drawing laughter from most, and an immediate reminder of it went out to Steelers fans as soon as he was drafted.

Imagine if it was a quarterback who biffed it. There is no way Landry Jones, the Steelers' other fourth round pick in 2013 (along with Thomas) could have won fans had he tripped over the 41-yard line. It's tough to imagine Jones would have won fans over with a profanity-laced 40-yard sprint captured so cleanly on video he was able to successfully erase from the minds of viewers what his recorded time was.

Those crazy, passionate linebackers are anti-establishment. They succeed because rules are created to prevent them from inflicting their will upon their opponents. It's almost an offensive mentality, yet, they still have to attack while defending, despite slanted rules, or in Zumwalt's case, lesser ability.

Analysts don't rave about his talent. They rave about his passion. It's not the form of his tackling that draws out the level of idolotry UCLA fans have for Zumwalt, it's the tackles themselves. He was named MVP of the Bruins' 42-12 shellacking of Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl, having amassed 10 tackles and an interception. But typifying his career, it wasn't his stats, but rather, his unrecorded statistical impact, that was most noteworthy. Just a split second after Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas released the ball, Zumwalt knocked him unconscious with a hit that would absolutely draw a fine in the NFL. Thomas would leave the game and not return. There are no stats for quarterback KOs, but JZ scored one. And it was the turning point of the game. He didn't plan to render Thomas unconscious, but he realized, as the play was unfolding, the moment was up to him to define.

"It was like, ‘Shoot, I have to ball’ ... I decided I was going to hit him as hard as I could, or I was going to miss him," Zumwalt told the LA Daily News. "That was my game plan going in."

Just hit him as hard as you can, don't worry about failure. How Lambertian is that?

Whether Zumwalt makes this Steelers' team is anyone's guess. He's likely best described as being on the outside looking in, literally. He'll start as an outside linebacker, but his flexibility to move inside will be a benefit to him. No physical attribute will be as beneficial to him as his intensity will.

Fans will always love that. And they'll love Zumwalt.

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