While the legendary Steel Curtain defense was led by the defensive line and Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene, the players at the second level of the defense, the linebackers, built their own legends throughout the 1970's with big hits, huge plays and timely turnovers.
While the star of the linebackers was always Jack Lambert, Jack Ham was equally recognized for being an elite outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ham was drafted in 1971 and started all but one game of his rookie season. He would go on to become one many reliable players for the defense in the 1970's and one of the greatest linebackers of all time. Ham was always in position, filling his role on a play and recognizing what the offense was trying to accomplish.
We take a look at some vintage Ham plays that remind us of just how great a player he was on the gridiron.
Interception 1974 AFC Championship game
The Steelers' defense had a field day against the Oakland Raiders in the 1974 and 1975 AFC Championship games. Part of the reason was because it was Ham's first season playing alongside Lambert and having a reliable fellow outside linebacker in Andy Russell. Ham would record two interceptions in the 1974 AFC Championship game, adding to his regular season total of five interceptions, the second highest he would post in his career (he recorded seven interceptions in the 1972 regular season).
Ham's forte was being in the right place at the right time when the other team dared to challenge the area of the field he was assigned to cover. While his coverage skills were impeccable, he was also an elite outside linebacker against the run.
Takes on two lead blockers for J.T. Thomas to force fumble 1975 AFC Championship
Any outside linebacker that wants to learn how to stop a run play to their side should study Ham's fundamentals. Look here how he immediately jumps to the edge to make sure the fullback cannot seal him from the outside and manages to take on the pulling guard, effectively eliminating two lead blockers on an off tackle run scheme.
Doing this allowed for J.T. Thomas to come screaming in without any interference to line up a clean shot on the running back and force a fumble which would be recovered by Lambert.
Still effective in the 1980's
While this play can also be attributed to Donnie Shell playing great red zone defense and batting the ball, Ham shows again that if the play is anywhere in the vicinity of his assignment that he can and will find the ball and attack. Here he notches an interception in the 1980 NFL season, his tenth year in the league.
Ham one of the greatest of all time
Let it never be doubted that in the best linebacker of all time discussions that Jack Ham better be mentioned each and every time. Ham's career as an outside linebacker was before the time when sacks were officially recorded in the NFL, so he does not have many to his name which makes many of future generations overlook him as an outside linebacker.
Ham recorded 32 interceptions in his career, the third most all time for any linebacker behind Stan White and Don Shinnick. He might have recorded more if it were not for having the player with the seventh most interceptions as a linebacker in Jack Lambert, whom recorded 28 interceptions in his career.
Ham was every bit the legendary Steeler that fit the blue collar mold that defined the franchise. He was not a boisterous contributor whom commanded the attention of his audience for his words, but a consistent contender that never gave up on the play and was there for his teammates when he was called upon. His eight Pro Bowls, six All-Pro nominations and Hall of Fame induction speak for him, a result that fits the mold of Ham who did all his talking with his pads and talent.