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A Rose By Any Other Name
Paul Zimmerman
July 30, 1984
Steeler linebacker Jack Lambert is not known as a sweetie, but he sure knows the sweet smell of success
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July 30, 1984

A Rose By Any Other Name

Steeler linebacker Jack Lambert is not known as a sweetie, but he sure knows the sweet smell of success

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So he began to talk about drugs, and senseless vandalism, about respect and the pride that he felt when he stood at attention before a game and heard the national anthem played. The audience would stare at him. Is this a put-on or what? Then they'd applaud. At one affair someone asked him what he'd do to the drug dealers. His reply was typically blunt. "Hang them by their feet in Market Square until the wind whistles through their bones."

"I read about sports figures who say the idea of their having an impact on kids is overrated," Lambert says. "I can't believe that. I've had kids at my camp who I know damn well would listen to me before their parents and their teacher. We have a responsibility, and if I can keep one kid from going on drugs I've accomplished something."

The remnants of the Super Bowl Steeler defenses are dwindling. Last year Ham retired; this year it's Blount and Loren Toews. Only Lambert and Shell remain. And in 1982 the Steelers gave Lambert a partner at an inside backer spot, going to the 3-4. Jack didn't like it.

"It was a change for me," he says. "I was 30. I didn't know how I'd adjust. Having to worry about cutbacks, well, it goes against my nature. I always want to go to the ball and pursue all over the field. This way is an efficient way to play the game and I accept it—but that doesn't mean I like it."

He doesn't leave the field on passing downs. "If I did I'd start looking for another position," he says. His range on deep coverages is still amazing.

"No matter where he plays, he is and always will be the hub of that defense, both physically and mentally," says Cleveland coach Sam Rutigliano, whose Browns play Lambert twice every year. "To me Jack Lambert is the Pittsburgh Steelers."

"The old middle linebacker position is pretty much gone forever," Lambert says. "I still think that if you have four really good defensive linemen you could play the 4-3, but maybe that's why we got away from it in the first place."

He has three years to go on his contract, which he signed before the '82 season. He called it a "career ender."

"He wants to be the best at what he does," his mother says. "I think there will come a time when he's not All-Pro anymore, and I'm afraid of that. I heard someone talking about an older player the other day and he said, 'Yeah, that was back when he could play.' I don't ever want to hear that about Jack. He's always said he'd play as long as it was fun. When he was home at Christmastime he didn't look like he was having fun. I'd like to see him get out of it. He's had a marvelous career—eight years in high school and college, 10 years as a pro. That's a lot of beating for one body."

"I've met some of the old linebackers," Lambert says. " Bill George, Sam Huff. Huff has written me a couple of short notes. 'I saw you play. I think you're a fine linebacker.' It was really kind and considerate. I met Ray Nitschke one time and we sat down and talked, about anything and everything. He walks stiff. Most middle linebackers do.

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