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Steelers Jack Ham, Jack Lambert Among All-Time Greatest LBs



Steelers Andy Russell Jack Ham Jack Lambert

Former Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers and Hall of Famers Jack Lambert and Jack Ham were listed among the 11 greatest linebackers of all-time by the 33rd Team. Lambert was ranked seventh, while Ham came in at No. 8. The linebackers ranked ahead of Lambert and Ham were Ted Hendricks, Mike Singletary, Dick Butkus, Junior Seau, Ray Lewis and Lawrence Taylor.

Lambert and Ham were both key members of the Steelers’ legendary defenses of the 1970s that led Pittsburgh to four Super Bowl titles in six years. Lambert was named to one more Pro Bowl than Ham (9-8), but both linebackers had eight All-Pro nominations in their careers and were named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and the 100th Anniversary All-Time Team. Lambert’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 1976 and NFL Rookie Defensive Player of the Award in 1974 probably gave him a slight edge over Ham in the rankings.

“Jack Lambert was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1974. He was All-Pro eight times in nine years (1975-1983) and played in nine straight Pro Bowls. That’s virtually his entire career, as he was forced to retire in 1984 after a severe toe injury,” the 33rd Team’s Elliott Kalb wrote. “He was Defensive Player of the Year in 1976 (and finished second to quarterback Bert Jones in MVP voting) and was his team’s defensive captain for eight years. He was a great cover linebacker and deserves a spot among the greatest ever to play the position.”

Lambert had a unique built, as he was a tall and thin linebacker, standing at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. He was dominating in the run game and often dropped deep into the middle of the field to make the Steelers’ Tampa 2 defense work. One of the most iconic moments of Lambert’s career came in Super Bowl X, when he tossed Dallas Cowboys safety Cliff Harris to the ground after he patted Steelers kicker Roy Gerela on the helmet after a missed field goal. The momentum in Super Bowl X completely shifted after that moment. Lambert recorded a whopping 14 tackles in the game and said after the victory, “No one can be allowed to intimidate us. We’re the Pittsburgh Steelers. We’re supposed to be the intimidators.”

That was Lambert. He was tough, rugged and intimidating. He was the perfect symbol for a Steelers linebacker and related well to Pittsburgh’s blue-collar fanbase. “Mean” Joe Greene famously once said Lambert was so mean he didn’t even like himself.

Steelers LB Jack Ham

STATE COLLEGE, PA – SEPTEMBER 30: Pro Football Hall of Famer and Penn State alumni Jack Ham accepts a Penn State College Hall of Famer plaque during a time out during a college football game between the Indiana Hoosiers and the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium in State College, PA. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire)

Ham might not get the recognition like Lambert as he wasn’t as vocal and didn’t possess the iconic Count Dracula look. However, as mentioned, he contributed just as much to the Steelers’ dynasty in the 1970s. Some even believe that Ham was the better linebacker of the two.

“There are only 11 spots on this list, and it’s impossible not to include two members of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ dynasty that won four Super Bowls in six years. The middle linebacker from that team will be listed ahead of Jack Ham, but that’s not to belittle Ham’s contributions,” Kalb wrote.

“Pittsburgh doesn’t beat the 12-2 Raiders in the 1974 AFC Championship Game without Ham. Oakland led 10-3 early in the fourth quarter. Ham’s second interception of Ken Stabler in the game was returned to the Raiders’ 9-yard line to set up the Steelers’ go-ahead touchdown.”

Ham was a technician at left outside linebacker in the Steelers’ 4-3 scheme, rarely ever missing a tackle. He finished his career with 53 turnovers (32 interceptions and 21 fumble recoveries), which is the most by a linebacker in NFL history. He also had 25 sacks when they were an unofficial stat and was in a position that did not often rush the passer.

“I have never seen anyone play the outside linebacker position better than Jack Ham,” Tony Dungy once said. “Fundamentals, technique, awareness and athleticism were all exceptional. He was the total package.”

No. 6 and No. 7 seem about right for Lambert and Ham on the all-time linebackers list. There’s an argument for both to be ahead of Hendricks, however. Outside of Taylor, who is universally recognized as the greatest linebacker ever, the linebackers from No. 7 to No. 2 on the list are all relatively close.

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