The other day my wife and I happened to be back in my childhood bedroom looking for something. The bedroom has hardly changed in the now going on three decades since I left it, and my wife found herself reminiscing. She remarked how the first thing she noticed those many years prior was all my Steelers memorabilia on the walls. Pennants, posters, and pictures adorned the room. She reminisced about how nothing had changed, and she wasn't just referring to the walls. My love for the Steelers is still as strong as ever. I am a creature of habit and I value consistency. I am loyal to a fault and admittedly don't like change. So the truth is, if you love me that is great, but if you don't like me you will never like me. I have grown to accept that truth. Thankfully my wife loves me like I am.
My wife said what impressed her the most that first visit those many years ago was the centerpiece of my Steelers piece de resistance. There is a glass framed photo of the Steelers helmet hung on the wall at the foot of the bed. On each side of the photo hangs a 8x11 action photo of my two favorite linebackers: Jack Lambert on the left and Jack Ham on the right. My wife still remembers asking me who are those guys, and that being her first introduction into my love for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The two Jacks were like super heroes on the field to me as a young boy. The dynamic duo if you will. Years later I realized they were very much the odd couple also, but as a youngster I never noticed. All I noticed was how they maneuvered around the field, destroying the ballcarriers. Each telecast an announcer would invariably comment about the similarities of the two, about how their instincts and football IQ allowed them to never take a false step that would delay their arrival at the ballcarrier. They always seemed to be on the same page, a step ahead of the opposition which lead to multiple interceptions and forced turnovers. They were the consummate professionals on the field and fittingly played the entirety of their careers in a Steelers uniform. That is about where the similarities of the two Jacks comes to a end.
Jack Lambert was nothing if not an alpha leader. He was the epitome of intensity on the field. Looking back all these years later, I readily realize that Lambert's job was made substantially easier by the most dominate defensive line of the era. Oftentimes Lambert would have little to no congestion between himself and the ballcarrier. At most, he would have to quickly dispose with the fullback before securing the tackle. Seldom would he have to engage a offensive lineman who had reached the second level because they were always being engaged, often dominated, by the Steelers d-line. This was a troubling development for the ballcarrier to say the least. Lambert was a text book tackler. Blessed with a lanky frame and extremely long arms, he resembled a great bird of prey swooping in to wrap up its next meal. He excelled at all aspects of mental warfare, both verbal and physical. You can view his altercation with Cowboys safety Cliff Harris for a point of reference, that clip never gets old.
He hated the spotlight and the opposition. He once famously cussed out John Madden during an interview at what I believe was the Pro Bowl. He simply reminded Madden that he hated him and his team, the Raiders. That was when rivalries really mattered and your rival was most definitely the enemy. When he was forced to retire due to the debilitating effects of a devastating turf toe injury, he never looked back. He has enjoyed his privacy and seclusion, which fits the nature of the man.
Jack Ham was a technically superior outside linebacker, quite possibly the most complete tactician to ever play the position. He had no weaknesses and excelled at all aspects of the game. Ham was the polar opposite of Lambert in their demeanor. While Lambert was a blazing inferno, Ham was as cool as the underside of the pillow. Jack Ham was the equivalent of James Dean in the NFL. He was articulate and charismatic, on and off the field. Ham was the professor while Lambert was the enforcer. Ham was so polished as a professional because he learned the tricks of the trade at Linebacker U, Penn State University. Ham seemed to glide around the football field, always in the right place at the right time. He was so cerebral that he rarely showed emotion on the field, one reason why so many football historians need to be regularly reminded of his exploits. His actions were far from forgettable, but his reactions were controlled and concise, just like the man. Many times it is easier to remember bravado before excellence in execution.
Lambert and Ham, the same yet totally different. By no means best friends, but equally committed to a singular purpose. They will forever be champions, invaluable members of the Steel Curtain Dynasty.
The NFL has changed drastically since their playing days, but one thing remains the same. Great teams win championships, not great individuals. Personal sacrifice on the field must take precedent over individual business interests. Lambert and Ham were the greatest of players, who's main concern was the greater good. Helping the Pittsburgh Steelers win Super Bowls. Long may their memories remain.