Jack Lambert has kept an incredibly low profile since retiring from pro football nearly 35 years ago. Lambert, one of the most iconic Steelers of all-time, has spent his retirement years serving as a voluntary deputy wildlife officer, coaching youth baseball and basketball teams and taking care of his area’s local athletic fields.
Lambert did make a rare public appearance this weekend, taking part in a memorabilia signing that also included Pittsburgh Pirates legend, Dick Groat.
Lambert arrived in Pittsburgh in 1974 as a little known, undersized inside linebacker out of Kent State. Eleven years later, he retired as a four time Super Bowl champion, a nine time Pro Bowler, a six time All-Pro, the 1976 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a future member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Lambert, arguably the most iconic player in franchise history, announced his retirement from the NFL in March of 1985. You can see highlights from his retirement press conference in the video below.
After missing just three games during his first decade with the Steelers, a painful toe injury sidelined Lambert for half of the 1984 season. Lambert explained the severity of his injury during his retirement press conference.
“I was making a tackle and I had my toe somehow positioned into the astroturf,” Lambert said. “When we hit, we hit so hard we jammed the toe and tore it out of its socket. It’s as simple as that.”
Despite his absence, the Steelers rallied to advance to the AFC title game, where they fell to Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins in the highest scoring game in AFC championship history. Lambert, despite his tremendous contributions to the franchise over the years, did not feel like he deserved compensation for his limited impact during his final season with the Steelers.
“Last year was probably the most difficult year of my life in regard to football,” he said. “It was the first time in my life that I ever felt like I didn’t deserve a paycheck. I felt kind of embarrassed about going back and picking up my paycheck from Mr. Rooney. It was rather embarrassing, and I certainly didn’t wanna go through that again this year.”
Lambert, not wanting to go through another injury-riddled season in 1985, knew his time had come. That didn’t mean, however, that saying goodbye to the Steelers and the game of football was easy.
“It’s easy to say you’re going to retire, but to actually make the phone call to Mr. Rooney and say, ‘Mr. Rooney, I’m going to retire,'” Lambert said. “To call Chuck Noll and say, ‘Coach Noll, I’m going to retire.’ I’ve been playing football every year for 20 years, it’s just hard to imagine that it’s over. My only regret is that it went so fast.”
Lambert, over three decades removed from his final snap as a Steeler, remains one of the most popular players in franchise history. No. 58 jerseys can still be seen in the crowd at Heinz Field on game days, as fans that weren’t even alive to see him play in person celebrate his legacy in the steel city. And while his greatness as a player certainly helped make him an endearing presence in Pittsburgh, Lambert’s work ethic and downright toughness is what made him a Pittsburgh sports legend.
“I think that there are a lot of steel mill workers in this town; hard working people,” Lambert said. “This is a football city. I think they know their football very well, I think they know who is out there working hard. I think they thought I worked hard out there. I think they appreciated that.”