Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 5 – 6

It’s not a surprise (to me at least) that the top 2 players (who happen to fall at numbers 5 and 6) are both defensive players.  You probably already know how they are without me having to discuss it, so let’s cut the introductions and get to it!

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6 – Jack Lambert
1974 – 1984
Top Linebacker

As far as players go, he’s number two on this list.  For me, growing up, he was number one.  Jack Lambert is who I wanted to be.  He was the man.  He IS the man!  I did that damn stutter step he used to do in practice during my high school years and it totally pissed my coaches off.  I didn’t care, I was channeling my inner Lambert!

9 Pro Bowls, 7x First Team All-Pro, NFL Defensive Player of the Year (76) and Defensive Rookie of the Year (74).  He was the intimidator.  The enforcer in the middle of the field.  For his first 10 years he averaged 146 tackles a year.  146!!  In 2004, the Fox Sports Net series The Sports List named Lambert as the toughest football player of all time.

My favorite story about Jack Lambert is this one – Lambert had a series of hits on Cleveland QB Brian Sipe that were, well, legendary.  In 81, after a hit that got him flagged and (if I remember correctly) tossed from the game, he was asked by reporters after the game what happened.  He said that the referee, Ben Dreith “said I hit Sipe too hard”.

“Did you?” ask the reporter?

“I hit him as hard as I could” responded Lambert.

I love that!

The stories about Jack Lambert are legend and legion.  That story and many others can be found in what I consider probably the greatest piece written on Lambert (and if you’ve never read it, stop reading this and go read that right now.  Then, you know, come back and finish this), “Jack Lambert, Defender of What Is Right”, by Paul Zimmerman.  In that piece, Zimmerman also quotes Lambert’s high school coach, Gerry Myers as he is recalling one of Lambert’s hits on an opposing player- “After a while teams would stop running curl patterns in front of him.  I can close my eyes now and see him hitting the split end from Streetsboro.  Knocked his helmet and one shoe off.”

We all know the stories about how Lambert picked cinders out of his skin while practicing in a parking lot.  We know the story of how Lambert threw Cliff Harris to the ground during the ’75 Super Bowl, coming to the defense of Roy Gerela.  That story prompted Chuck Noll to give the quote that inspired the title of Zimmerman’s piece:

Jack Lambert is a defender of what is right.

Lambert gave then defensive coordinator Bud Carson a new tool, and between the two of them they re-defined the middle linebacker position.  As Andy Russell is quoted as saying, “Bud had him covering the tight end all over the field.  He’d assign him the first back out of the backfield.  Normally the middle linebacker covered the second back…but the first back, my God, it was thought to be an impossible assignment for a middle linebacker.”

Lambert became the quarterback of the Steelers defense.  He made all the calls, sometimes changing the defensive sets four or five times pre-snap.  What Lambert did was cement the idea of what it meant to be a Steelers linebacker.  Names like Ham, Russell, Lloyd, Merriweather, Gildon, Farrior, Harrison, Kirkland and more all come to mind when you think of the tradition of Steelers linebackers, but when you think of who, more than any other player, epitomizes the ideals of what a Steelers linebacker is, only one name rises to the top.

Jack Lambert.

So, I could easily have been talked into putting Lambert at the top “player” spot, but then again, I really couldn’t if I am being honest with myself.  Because the top player on the list is…

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5 – Joe Greene
Defensive Tackle
Top D-Line/Top Player

Bob Labriola, amongst others, have said that Joe Greene was probably the most significant player in the history of the franchise, and I can’t disagree with them.  I am not sure I can even begin to make an argument against it.  I’m not sure I want to.

Joe has been my favorite Steeler, he’s been my second favorite, but never lower than that.  There is truth that before Joe Greene came to Pittsburgh, we never won anything.  Before Joe Greene came to Pittsburgh you could say we didn’t really know how to win.  Joe Greene, the presence, the aura, the sheer personality of the man changed that.  And that’s saying nothing about how the guy could play!  My God!  Watch the highlights, he was a man among boys!  I keep saying that Cam Heyward is a grown ass man, well Joe Greene defined what that statement means.

Hall of Famer, 10 Pro Bowls, 8 All-Pro teams (5 first, 3 second), 2x NFL Defensive Player of the Year, NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, 4x Super Bowl champion, but none of those accolades really tell the tale of Joe Greene.

The players all say that Joe was the voice of the team. Rocky Bleier, in the History of the Steelers DVD says something like this “If Joe wasn’t happy about something, we all weren’t happy about something.  If Joe said this is how something is going to be, that’s how it was going to be”.  I think quite honestly that he saved Terry Bradshaw’s career.  He was the heart and soul of the team through the 70’s.  One of only two players in the history of the team to have their jersey officially retired. That in and of itself speaks volumes about the impact Joe Greene had on the team.

The headline after he was drafted read “Who’s Joe Greene?”. I think after all the years, and all the championships, and all the memories, we know who he is.

He is the face of the franchise. He is the quintessential Steeler.  He is Joe Greene.


That’s it for the players.  I know many of you might think I’m nuts, but for me, the top 4 people who have been the most influential in the history of the Steelers are people who didn’t actually put on the pads.

Whose left, and in what order?  We’ll roll them out 1 by 1 starting with number 4.

Until next time Nation!

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