From his mother, who's 5'8", Lambert got his height; from his father, now a plumbing estimator in Cleveland, his square and exaggeratedly wide shoulders. Lambert's mother pulls out a sixth-grade class picture from Shalersville ( Ohio) Public School, where she and Jack Lambert Sr., were classmates. Jack Sr. is in the front row, a blond, wide-shouldered little boy with the same tight-lipped, slightly sardonic smile that marks Jack Jr. It was his father's side of the family that also supplied Lambert with toughness, or at least a good share of it.
"My father's dad played a little neighborhood football in Cleveland," Lambert says. "I've got a picture of him in his old leather helmet on the wall of my study. But he was best known for his boxing. He fought under the name of Johnny Lemons because his mother didn't want him to fight. They tell me he once fought Johnny Risko in Cleveland, even though he was little more than a middleweight and Risko was a heavy.
"He ended up as a store detective in Higbee's in Cleveland. I know he was a guy with a short wick; he saw things right or wrong and that was it. Once he was driving in downtown Cleveland and my aunt was in the car. She was about 11 or 12, and they'd just been shopping. He stopped for a light and three or four drunks in the next car said something to my aunt. My grandfather never said a word, but he reached in one of the grocery bags in back and pulled out a wine bottle, busted it and opened up a guy's arm, and that was the end of the argument."
When Lambert was two years old his parents were divorced. He'd spend weekends with his father. Most of the time they'd play ball. A few years ago Jim O'Brien of The Pittsburgh Press asked Lambert if his parents' divorce had affected him in any way.
"I'm sure it did," Lambert said, "but I don't think it's the business of readers of The Pittsburgh Press."
At Crestwood, where Lambert was a catcher and lettered for four years, they said that he had a great future in baseball and that he was good enough at basketball to play in college. But his first love was always football.
"I was a Browns fan. All the kids in the area were Browns fans," he says. "We were only a couple of miles from Hiram College, where the Browns trained in the summer. Jim Brown was everyone's favorite player. I remember chasing him one time to get an autograph, running after his car, a green Cadillac. I even remember the license plate, JB832. I finally did get it. I'll never turn down a kid for an autograph, but first he's got to say 'Please.' "
Lambert also remembers going up to his football coach after his freshman year and asking to get his number changed to 00.
"He told me, 'If you want to wear a special number, you've got to be a special player,' " Lambert says. He got the number after his sophomore season, and it's since been retired, along with the 99 he wore at Kent State, giving him a record for range of retired numbers that will never be broken unless they go into three digits.
He was a shrimp as a high school freshman and sophomore, with a cute blond crew cut. "We had a flower shop," his mother says, "and one Easter we dressed him as the Easter bunny and made him deliver flowers. He was disgusted, but he looked so cute. He said, 'Never again.' "