When most casual NFL fans think of the Steel Curtain defense of the 1970s, they immediately conjure up an image of the snarling, toothless visage of inside linebacker Jack Lambert. But most Pittsburgh Steelers fans who watched the team in that era will say that outside linebacker Jack Ham was the better player.
“Yet Ham remains somewhat underappreciated,” writes Ed Bouchette in a new feature for The Athletic. “He was not as popular … as Lambert or others on his own defense. Ham was not big, and he did not scowl over opponents nor mock them. He did not have a sack dance. His comments to the press were often bland. Teammates called him simply, ‘The Hammer,’” concludes Bouchette, with The Athletic calling him the No. 52 best player in NFL history.
Jack Ham Came Out of “Linebacker U”
Jack Ham was selected No. 34 overall out of Penn State in the 1971 NFL Draft and went on to play for the Steelers for 12 seasons. In six of those he was named first-team All-Pro (1974-79) and he was named to the Pro Bowl eight times in all, winning four Super Bowl rings along the way.
So it’s no surprise that he was selected for the NFL’s 75th and 100th anniversary teams, or that he was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility (Class of 1988). Above all else, Ham was a playmaker. Over the course of the 162 games he played for the Steelers, he was responsible for 32 interceptions and 21 fumble recoveries, not to mention two forced fumbles and 25.5 sacks (though the latter figure remains unofficial, as he retired after the 1982 season, the same year that sacks became an official statistic).
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Former Steelers Center Mike Webster is No. 57 on the List
Jack Ham isn’t the only former Steelers player to be named to The Athletic’s All-Time Top 100 NFL Players list in the past few days. At No. 57 is late Steelers center “Iron Mike” Webster (Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 1997), who had a 17-year career with the Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, one that saw him earn Pro Bowl honors nine times. All in all, Webster appeared in 220 games for the Steelers–a franchise record that was eclipsed by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger last season–serving as the center for four Super Bowl championship teams.
Stephen J. Nesbitt’s feature on Webster is well worth reading, especially if you’re not familiar with the sad story of his cognitive decline. Selected by the Steelers in the fifth round of the 1974 Draft out of Wisconsin, “Iron Mike” died at the age of 50 on September 24, 2002.
More Steelers Legends to Come?
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