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A Letter From the Editor: How in the world do we forget Jack Ham?

How is it I always forget the greatness that was Jack Ham?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

When people think of the 1970s dynasty, they typically think about the defense. How could you not? The Steel Curtain was legendary in every sense of the word. Players like “Mean” Joe Greene, Mel Blount, Jack Lambert, L.C. Greenwood, Donnie Shell, Dwight White and Ernie Holmes. On the offensive side of the football, people talk about Terry Bradshaw, Mike Webster, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and Rocky Bleier.

These names have become household names among Steelers fans both young and old, if those young do their homework on the team. But there is one name which is mentioned, but not as much as the aforementioned players. And it isn’t as if this player wasn’t deserving of being among the best players of his era.

For me, that player is linebacker Jack Ham.

I wasn’t alive for Jack Ham’s playing days, he retired after the 1982 season and I was born in 1983, but I’ve done plenty of reading about those teams and always seem to forget about Ham. His statistics and accolades speak for themselves, but he always seems to slip my mind.

Recently, I’ve been reading Jim Wexell’s “On the Clock” book (you can buy it HERE) and was reading about the year Ham was drafted. In 1971 Ham was taken out of Penn State with the team’s 2nd round pick, 34th overall, and Chuck Noll had to be convinced into taking the undersized linebacker. Ham’s intelligence and grit are what won over Noll, but Ham continued the trend of the Steelers drafting a Hall of Fame player every year from 1969-1972

1969: Joe Greene
1970: Terry Bradshaw and Mel Blount
1971: Jack Ham
1972: Franco Harris

There was one year in 1973 the team didn’t draft a Hall of Fame player, but made up for it in 1974 with one of the greatest draft classes of all-time, selecting four Hall of Fame players in one class.

Maybe it was the ‘74 class which caused Ham to blend into the background, but that shouldn’t be the case. Those who saw Ham play, like my dad, described him as undersized, but in the next breathe talked about his speed and amazing coverage skills.

Just look at his career statistics and accolades below:

Games: 162
INT: 32
INT for TD: 1
Fumble Recovery: 21
FR for TD: 1
Sacks: 3 (25.5 projected)

Like a cheesy infomercial, “But wait, there’s more!”

  • Super Bowl champion (IX, X, XIII, XIV)
  • 6× First-team All-Pro (1974–1979)
  • 2× Second-team All-Pro (1973, 1980)
  • Pro Bowl (1973–1980)
  • NFL 1970s All-Decade Team
  • NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team
  • NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team
  • Pittsburgh Steelers All-Time Team
  • Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Honor
  • Pittsburgh Pro Football Hall of Fame
  • Consensus All-American (1970)
  • Pro Football Hall of Fame
  • College Football Hall of Fame

All of this information had me go back and watch some highlights of Ham play, and the man they dubbed “the Hammer” was the opposite of what most of his defenders were on those legendary defenses.

While they were loud and boisterous, Ham was the quiet assassin. Consistent, steady and always reliable. He was the first real dual threat linebacker in the NFL, and when you see what defensive coordinators are asking of their linebackers in today’s NFL, you realize Ham could have played in any era.

Just like there are young Steelers fans who don’t truly understand how good Jerome Bettis was in the mid-90s when he was acquired from the Rams, I contribute my negligence on how good Ham was as simply not knowing. However, what I know now I’ll never forget. Ham wasn’t just a good player on a great team, he was a Hall of Fame player in every sense of the word. He was a glue for that 70s defense.

So, with all that said, consider this a Jack Ham appreciation article. I feel as if I owe it to fans of my generation and younger to know what kind of player Ham was. To make sure he won’t be lost in the shuffle of such a tremendous team.

This one’s for “the Hammer”.

(Note: The “Letter From the Editor” article runs every Sunday morning during the Steelers offseason.)