Here are many stories from my interviews with Steelers players on Jack Lambert’s time in Pittsburgh and what made him a legend:
Deloplaine: “Lambert freaked out on me once in practice when I stopped once – I didn’t want to hit him during practice – this was right before the Super Bowl. I turned my back and started walking away and he started punching me in the back of the head. I asked him what the heck that was about and he yelled at me that we never stop!”
Wagner: “Another good story about Lambert. In the playoffs, we lost our running backs to injury in Baltimore in 1976. We were looking for the threepeat that season. Well, there were thirty seconds left versus Oakland and we had no chance to win and the defense was on the field. We’re in the huddle and the referee puts his head into the huddle and starts telling us how much he hated seeing us lose and how we were the greatest defense he saw… Well Lambert just lashes into him: “Get the bleep out of here – we’re trying to win a game!” And more…the ref ran out of the huddle, he was so taken aback!”
Widenhofer: “I watched a lot of film on him and worked him out. I just had a good feeling about him. He had a lot of the intangibles. He was tough as you can get and was very instinctive. He was tall and very lean – he didn’t look the part. But he was always able to make plays.”
Garrity: “Jack Lambert was mean on and off the field. So as a rookie, I remember sitting on my stool in the locker room during my first training camp and Jack Lambert said to me: “Hey Rook, you’re from Penn State, right?” I said yes. He said, “Well, you need to clean out my ashtray twice a day. The last Penn State guy to do that was terrible.” Well, that guy was Jack Ham. And Lambert smoked a lot of cigarettes, even at halftime. Even the coaches smoked at halftime.”
Dungy: “Another story I remember …. we had just hired a new coach from Minnesota named Jed Hughes. We were in practice and it was freezing out and he had this really nice coat on. You could still see the Minnesota Vikings’ emblem on it, plus it was purple. No one would listen to him. Everyone ignored him like he wasn’t there. Finally, Jack Lambert approached him and asked him how we were supposed to listen to him when he was wearing that coat. He tried to get the linebackers to do the drills but finally he had to leave the practice because no one would listen to him.”
Bahr: “I remember Jack Lambert in training camp. We used to have 4000-5000 people a day watching us practice, and he would sit down between practice to sign autographs for every single kid until no one was left. He’d often miss lunch and miss the rest time between practices, and I don’t know if anyone noticed but I did. It was first class.”
Hanratty: “Every day Lambert would walk into the locker room and glare at me as I smoked my cigarette and had my coffee, then go to his locker. Well, one day he put his shoulder pads on and out dumped two cups of water on his head. I put the two cups in his shoulder pads.
This went on for three days in a row- every day he’d do the same thing and the water would dump on his head. On the fourth day, I went up to Jack and said “You dumb SOB, you’re getting boring! Check your shoulder pads next time!” The fifth day he checks his pads – no water. He looks at me with this big grin like he just won something. The next day, he puts on his pads, and dumps another two cups of water on his head (laughing).
Another time with Lambert. In practice we’re lining up across from one another and I blow a kiss at him. So he yells across the field to Chuck “Chuck – Hanratty just blew a kiss at me!” Well, he realized as soon as he did it what he said, and everyone started laughing – even Chuck!”
Dornbrook: “On the first day, when the vets came in, I remember all of the people on the hill – the press watching. We ran the Oklahoma drills and got to see Lambert on top of me, swinging at me. I knocked him on his ass during the drill, and Franco ran around him and taunted him with the football. Lambert hit me and I hit him. It became a big fight – Rollie Dotsch, George Perles and other coaches jumped in to stop us and it became a big pile.
Did Lambert apologize later?
Lambert – say sorry? Come on! I was pissed off. Webby took my hand later, put me in a car and drove me to the 19th Hole for a beer. Lambert came in, so I ordered him a Shirley Temple. He laughed, and we had a beer together then.”
Sam Washington: “I definitely remember the playoffs – it was a totally different atmosphere. It was spearheaded by Lambert. The bullshit was set aside – I was really impressed with the whole approach. The way players walked into the locker room, the way they sat down and paid attention”
Pollard: “When I first started – my first couple of days – I almost got into a fight with Dennis Winston but I walked away. You weren’t supposed to fight your teammates. Well, Lambert pulled me aside. He told me that “This wasn’t the Cowboys. That the next time he saw me not fight back, he was going to kick my butt!””
Kolb: “Later on in the week I had had enough and dared Lambert to line up against me in two-minute drills. They came at the end of practice when guys went after each other at full speed, after being tired from a full day of practice. Jack lined up at defensive end. I thought he would try to beat me with a speed rush and he caught me leaning and ran right over me. He hit Bradshaw from the blind side – hard and knocked him to the ground. There was no letup. Chuck went and patted Lambert on the back and turned around and yelled at me.”
Kellum: “We got along well. He was intense but a helluva player. We went out together and had a few beers together and did things we can’t tell anyone about now (laughing). Typical twenty-one years have a couple of beers and having fun.”
Pinney: “After a couple more TD catches and celebrations in subsequent weeks, Jack Lambert had seen enough. The next week when I caught another TD pass in the drill, he put a huge hit on me. This first thing I remember is getting up off the ground and trying to find my helmet which was no longer on my head.”
Widenhofer: “I think it was in 1977 –we were talking three-peat that season. Well we had lost two in a row and lost to Cleveland at home. They hadn’t beaten us in a long time before that. After the game, there is a lobby in the stadium where the players and coaches were able to sit while they waited for the crowds and traffic to clear. I came out of the locker room into that area and Jack Hart (Steelers Equipment Manager) came up to me and said that Jack Lambert hadn’t turned in his uniform yet. Well, it was 45 minutes after the game. I looked at him and said “Really?”
I went looking for him and went into the Pirates’ locker room, which was further down the hall from ours. I looked inside and saw Jack sitting in the sauna, in tears, with his uniform still on. He was upset about the team maybe not making the playoffs. I talked to him – told him we needed to get his uniform off… But that’s how hard he and the rest of those guys took it. Here he was 45 minutes after the game – he didn’t take a shower – didn’t even take his uniform off.”
Read more by former Steelers via the book Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades. To order, just click on the book: