Don't Mess with|
By Phil Musick, The Pittsburgh Press
Miami, Jan. 18, 1976 -- It was, Jack Lambert thought, bad enough that Dallas had been leading all day and acting as though the Steelers didn't really invent defense back in 1972.
That was injury enough.
But accept insults? Never. So, when Dallas free safety Cliff Harris came up and taunted Roy Gerela by patting him on the helmet & congratulating him after he missed his second field goal try of the game, Lambert took what he deemed proper action.
He tried to unscrew Harris' head from his shoulders.
"I felt he jumped in Roy's face, and that it was uncalled for, and someone had to do something about it," Lambert said.
A brawl was averted, so Lambert did the next best thing. He started tearing up a Dallas offense already plagued by the ineffectiveness of the shotgun.
On the ensuing series, Lambert made three tackles, two of them resounding enough to register on the Richter scale, and the Steeler defenders caught fire.
"We were getting intimidated and we're supposed to be the intimidators," Lambert said, incredulity creeping into his voice at the thought of it. "So I decided to do something."
Earlier, Lambert had taken the situation less intensely, swatting at ex-teammate Preston Pearson, who'd objected to Lambert trying to bury him in the poly-turf surface on an incompletion.
"I felt him on my neck, and I just swiped at him," Lambert said. "Then he smiled at me and I smiled at him. He's a heck of a competitor and so am I."
Although Joe Greene credited him with being "our spark... our spearhead," Lambert denied he sought to be an inspiration.
"I wasn't trying to get anyone fired up," he said. "I just play emotionally. Jack Ham plays and never says a word. I yell and scream a lot."
"Sometimes they don't pay any attention to me."
But had he felt a change after his outburst at Harris and trying to singlehandedly dismantle the Cowboys on the next series?
"After that, we had some hitting," Lambert allowed.
He has a very definite idea of the game's purpose. You try to knock the other guy's head off; you do not in any way attempt to humiliate him.
"I tackle somebody as hard as I can and then I get up and go back to the huddle," he said. "I don't like the idea of people slapping our kicker or jumping up in his face and laughing when he misses a FG.
"That stuff you don't need."
If Lambert wouldn't admit he had provided a Steeler defense that held Dallas to a paltry 108 yards rushing with an inspirational lift, he hinted at it rather broadly.
"Sometimes it's like in hockey," he smiled. "You need to take a penalty to get things juiced up."
What really irritated Lambert were Cowboy insinuations that he had taken a few cheap shots at Dallas players. He implied that he had given tit for tat.
"I'll play clean if you want to play clean," he said. "If you don't, I'll play it that way. But I don't care what they're saying.
"I'm sitting in the winners' dressing room, they're in the losers."
A reporter gingerly approached the player he obviously thought was a real Steeler meanie. In fact, Lambert plays the game fearlessly, but is a good-natured young man stuck with an unfortunate stereotype as some sort of ogre in shoulderpads. Which, occasionally, he seems to foster.
"I play the way I think it should be played," he said. "It's nice to be able to take your frustrations out on a football field and stay out of trouble at home."