This might as well be Walnut Grove. You know, “Little House on the Prairie,” go past the feed store, take the main road out of town down to the big oak, and that’ll be the Lambert place.
But beware, ol’ Jack don’t cotton to notebook-toting strangers much.
Fact is, “Jack would rather wrestle a rattlesnake than talk to a reporter,” neighbor Barry Seth said.
Jack Lambert. “The Man of Steel.” A sneering, vicious, angry linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1974 to 1984. Played without his top three teeth, leaving him with Dracula-like fangs. Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Asked once at a public appearance what he would do with drug dealers, he said, “Hang them by their feet in Market Square until the wind whistles through their bones.”
A hermit now. Mountain man. Packs a gun pursuing poachers as a volunteer deputy game warden. Captain of a celebrity hockey team because he wants to be. Imagine getting checked into the boards by Jack Lambert. Drives a red pickup, built a log cabin for his family on 125 remote acres. Can be spotted at the hardware store on Main Street in Walnut Grove, er, Worthington most any day.
“I’ve seen him around town a lot, but they say he’s not real sociable,” said Fred Clark of Clark’s Barber Shop. “So I never pushed it.”
Ridiculous. Push it. Who better to talk to than Jack Lambert? If the Steelers are going to be in the Super Bowl for the first time since winning four trophies … if the Steelers are going to be in the Super Bowl for a repeat performance against the Cowboys … if the Steelers are going to be in the Super Bowl with Greg Lloyd as their emotional leader and he doesn’t give interviews, what’s Jack Lambert got to say about all this?
Jack Ham, Lambert’s linebacking sidekick during the Steelers’ glory years, is laughing so hard he cannot speak. “You won’t find him. The guy’s a recluse. Why, I haven’t talked to him in I don’t know how long.”
Now Rocky Bleier’s laughing, too. “You want to talk to Jack? That’s funny. He was supposed to be here today, yeah right. He’s going to blow us off - that’s just Jack.”
Bleier, the Steelers’ heyday running back, with Franco Harris and wide receiver Lynn Swann and coach Chuck Noll and just about all the great characters of note were at the Steelers’ headquarters last week to sit in front of the NFL Films cameras to reminisce about their four Super Bowl titles.
But not Jack.
“Look at the old films,” Bleier said. “Jack was the only one who would not hold hands in the defensive huddle. As far as Jack was concerned, only sissies hold hands. Everybody else did, but not Jack.”
The Steelers vs. the Cowboys in the Super Bowl just like Super Bowl XIII and Super Bowl X. Yes, Super Bowl X when Steelers kicker Roy Gerela missed a 33-yard field goal in the third quarter and Dallas safety Cliff Harris tapped Gerela on the helmet and said, “Way to go.” Remember: Lambert then picked up Harris and slammed him to the ground. The Cowboys were winning, 10-7, but the Steelers on the sideline saw Lambert come to Gerela’s aid and they went wild. And on the next series Lambert starts pumping his legs - which would later become a Lambert trademark - and the Steelers go on a rampage and win, 21-17. After that game Noll tells reporters: “Jack Lambert is a defender of what is right.”
The answering machine fibbed: “Leave your name and number and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Bye.”
Six messages later and not a word back.
“Took me two months of leaving messages, and then one day I get this call,” said Ron Musselman of the Greensburg Tribune Review. “Met him at the ice rink at one of his hockey practices and interviewed him. Damn thing, though, he wouldn’t talk about football.”
So how’s the weather, Jack?
Oct. 23, 1995: The Greensburg Tribune Review runs the “Lambert talking about everything but football” story: “Warrior of the Woods.”
“I’m really dangerous now,” Lambert is quoted as saying. “They’ve given me a badge and a gun.”
Lots and lots of Daniel Boone quotes about hunting and poaching, but geez, how ‘bout that Kordell Stewart, Jack?
No, nothing about Lambert, the kid who got Jim Brown’s autograph while growing up a Cleveland Browns’ fan living 30 miles from Canton, Ohio. Nothing about football.”You have to find a nice big tree to hide behind,” Lambert told the newspaper. “Then you just kind of have to peek around the corner and wait. (Poachers) are so intent on shooting the deer, they’re not going to see you. So, you’ve got them.”
Fascinating, but what about Rod Woodson and Bam Morris? What about Neil O’Donnell and the city of Pittsburgh’s longtime love affair with the Steelers?
Pittsburgh disappeared in the rearview mirror a long time ago.
There isn’t a 7-Eleven in sight, but lots of red barns, the remnants of a deer that failed to make it across the highway, and just before Slate Lick, a sign indicating the whereabouts of the Transylvania Theological School. Transylvania - Jack Lambert country.
Oh, how Lambert hated the references to Count Dracula. Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray once wrote: “Is that really tomato juice he’s drinking or something he bit out of the neck of Earl Campbell?”
“Oh, hell, it’s just an image,” Lambert told Sports Illustrated in 1984. “But it works to my advantage in the camp I run. When I tell the kids to keep quiet and go to bed, they listen.”
Down at Bowser’s Feeds, owner Rich Grafton grew up admiring that image. And there is no doubt, he says, the punishing linebacker he used to watch on television is now the most famous person to live in this town of 700. Jim Kelly was reared up the road in East Brady, and Mitch and Gus Frerotte are from the big city - Kittanning - but Lambert’s a Steeler, and this is Steeler country.
“He don’t talk much about football; well, not at all,” Grafton said.
Most everyone talks to their barber, but John Steffy, who shears Lambert, says there are exceptions. “He don’t like to talk about football.”
And that’s the way it is up and down Main Street. The Hall of Famer, the man who carved dazzling memories into the lives of so many Steelers fans, has left no doubt: There is life after football.
“It got to the point,” Lambert said in a 1982 interview, “where I couldn’t even go to church without people turning around in the pew and looking at me.
“I hardly go anywhere anymore because of the attention I get. Do you know I’ve even had people stop at the bottom of my driveway and just stare at my house? That’s a little sick, isn’t it? No wonder my friends tell me I’m turning into a recluse.”
It wasn’t really the bottom of the driveway - it was a few blocks away - at Long’s Market. Barry Seth, Lambert’s neighbor and boss in the Pennsylvania Game Commission, was kind enough to take a business card and deliver it to the Lambert household last week with a request for an interview.
Twenty minutes later, the phone rang at Long’s Market: It was Lisa Lambert, Jack’s wife. “Jack isn’t doing any interviews,” she said. Click, and the phone went dead.
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