Jack Lambert is the best remembered and most popular of the Pittsburgh Steelers of the '70s. That's when the Steelers were the NFL's Team of the Decade, when they won four Super Bowls in six years. That string started in Lambert's rookie season of 1974 when he became the man in the middle of the Steel Curtain Defense. He played 11 seasons with the Steelers and was a first ballot Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee in 1990.
Lambert never set out to win any popularity contests, and that is the intriguing aspect of his status with Steelers' fans. Terry Bradshaw is the best known of the Steelers of that wonderful era on a national basis because he continues as a celebrity on network TV shows and has written several books about his life. In Pittsburgh, however, the fans love Lambert best.
The idea of a book about him only disturbs Lambert. He wants to be left alone. He grew up in a small town called Mantua, Ohio and today he lives in an even smaller town, Worthington, just east of Butler in the northwestern end of Pennsylvania. He built an A-frame on a 125-acre forest parcel.
Lambert had several goals when he was playing for the Steelers. He wanted to help the Black & Gold win the Super Bowl and he wanted to play in the Pro Bowl and be regarded as the best defensive player in the pro ranks. When he was fInished with football, he wanted to do whatever pleased him. He has realized all those goals.
Today, he lives with his wife Lisa and their four children about 45 miles from Pittsburgh, and seldom strays into the city where he gained fame by playing middle linebacker better than anybody else in the NFL at the time. "Who would have thought," said teammate Andy Russell, "that Lambert would become one of the best family men on our team?"
Even his best friends confess that they don't really understand Lambert. They like him despite his protests. Even relatives and pals say Lambert puts off people with his role-playing and tough guy first impression. If you get to know him, they insist, you'll like the man.
He remains an enigma and he likes it that way. "I'm sure Dr. Freud could have a field day with my story," he has said, "but it's really nobody's business."
His signature is the most costly and prized of the players from Chuck Noll's championship teams. He makes more money a year now signing his name than he did in his early seasons with the Steelers.
His fans remain steadfastly loyal to Lambert. Some of the best linebackers ever to play the game, and other football greats, offer praise in his name here. Western Pennsylvania and the tri-state area that supports the Steelers are best known for producing great quarterbacks, but some of the best linebackers in NFL history have come from these parts as well.