SI Vault
 
THE MAN BEHIND THE MASK
Paul Zimmerman
August 23, 2007
IF YOU BELIEVE THIS MAN WAS A DIRTY FOOTBALL PLAYER, THEN YOU DON'T KNOW JACK
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 23, 2007

The Man Behind The Mask

IF YOU BELIEVE THIS MAN WAS A DIRTY FOOTBALL PLAYER, THEN YOU DON'T KNOW JACK

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2 3 4 5 6

In the locker room the writers asked Lambert about it again. Same play, same ref. It was getting a bit old. He capsuled the situation in his terse and hard-bitten style: "Brian has a chance to go out-of-bounds, and he decides not to. He knows I'm going to hit him. And I do. History."

A few months ago Lambert was still sore. "I was seriously thinking about changing my uniform number after that game," he said. "I felt that I'd been thrown out because I was number 58, because I was Jack Lambert. At the Pro Bowl this year I was talking to one of the officials. He said, 'I saw films of that Cleveland game. What did you do?' I said, 'Hey, no kidding.'

"But Brian was the quarterback. He lay on the ground like a sniper had shot him, so they threw me out. It's big entertainment now, protect the quarterback, $200 to your favorite charity."

And that's basically it. Four incidents. And the image grew, fed on itself, took hold. Sometimes Lambert helped it along.

"After the Harris thing in the Super Bowl," he says, "I thought it would be a great chance for Cliff and I to do something commercially in the off-season. My agent talked to his, but he wouldn't go along with it."

Sometimes his teammates chimed in. "Jack likes to hit hard," Rocky Bleier said at a charity roast in 1980. "He likes to inflict a lot of pain...and that's just when he's on a date."

Count Dracula, Mad Man Jack—it started to bug him. "It's beginning to get out of hand," he said in his fifth season. "All that stuff upsets me, because I'm not a dirty football player. I don't sit in front of my locker thinking of fighting or hurting somebody. All I want to do is to be able to play football hard and aggressively, the way it's meant to be played. But when someone deliberately clips me or someone comes off the bench and tries to bait me, like they did in Cleveland, well, I'm not going to stand for it. I will be no man's punching bag."

Sometimes he looks at it philosophically. "Oh, hell, it's just an image," he says now. "Adults are fooled sometimes, but kids see right through it. Kids are tough to fool. Besides, it works to my advantage in the camp I run. When I tell the kids to keep quiet and go to bed, they listen."

"One night we were sitting around watching the Steelers on Monday-night TV," says Fred Paulenich, who teaches at Crestwood and remembers Lambert from his high school days, "and they were doing those little spot intros, and Jack introduces himself as ' Jack Lambert, Buzzard's Breath, Wyoming.' I could see all of Mantua sitting up at that one. Howard Cosell even repeated it later, and I said, 'Oh, my God, he believed it.' "

"I heard about it," Lambert's mother says. "The people I talked to didn't see the humor in it. I didn't either." She pauses for a moment. "You know," she says, "Jack reads all that stuff about himself, and I think he feels he has to live up to it in some way."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6