I was a failed Steeler draft choice as a tight end coming out of Nebraska in 1978, but during my brief stint with the team, I experienced a couple of memorable Jack Lambert moments first hand that I thought your readers would enjoy.
Lambert was as intimidating in camp as he was in games... maybe even more so. Nobody messed with Jack. NOBODY
. His respect was solid within the team. He was his own man and was not into political correctness in the slightest, because I believe his heart was pure and he was comfortable within himself. At our first team lunch with the vets in camp, we -- rookies and star veterans alike -- had to stand up and introduce ourselves and the school we played at. When it came his turn, Jack stood up on his chair and yelled out loud like a Marine drill sergeant, "I'm Jack Lambert, I'm from mother-f**king Grambling, and if you don't like it, you can kiss my skinny white ***!"
He sat back down without even a trace of a smile, and the place went nuts, howling and laughing. Grambling is, of course, a predominantly "black" state university in Louisiana.
My other personal story occured during a very important Sunday scrimmage we had shortly before the season started. We were all very tired and ornery after several weeks of camp, and I -- like everyone else -- was in no mood for anyone to be messing with me. I was a 6'3", 240-pound rookie tight end, so I had about 20 pounds on Lambert. The particular play called for me to release inside and block down hard on Lambert to set up a sweep around the right side. Lambert didn't see me coming until the last instant. He tried to square up but couldn't, and I drilled him -- just floored him. The play went for a score, and he got up cussing and yelling with the wildest eyes I've ever seen! I was fairly certain that Mr. Lambert did not appreciate being decked, especially by a rookie like me.
Dufresne goes airborne for a tough grab.
Making sure that everyone (especially Lambert) could hear him, Coach Noll runs over to me and yells "Great block, Mark! Super hit! You knocked Jack flat on his ***! That's what I wanna see from every tight end in camp! Now let's go, line it up again right now, same play!"
Oh sh*t, Coach! You gotta be kiddin' me! Run it again? Oh, sh*t! I glanced over at Lambert, who was now clearly cranked up a couple of notches beyond ferocious. Had he any teeth, he would have been spitting through them. As we broke the huddle, a thin-lipped Noll brushed by me and half-whispered in my ear-hole, "Let's see what happens this time, rookie." So we line it up again, and by this time Lambert is practically jumping out of his skin. I feel a virtual hug of kinship and understanding from a number of my offensive teammates, some of whom lowered their heads (perhaps in a brief silent prayer for me). On defense, they were all smiles... they knew what was coming.
So Bradshaw takes the snap and L.C. Greenwood (nicknamed "Hollywood Bags") mysteriously allows me to slip past him without a touch (wow, I'm pretty quick, huh?) and before I could go more than about three steps, WHAM!
Lambert hits me at full speed and flattens me like I'm a 3rd string punter! Not to be cliche, but I suspect my momma felt that hit... it left me a bit dazed. Lambert then steps on me and catapults over my body to make a vicious hit on Thunder Thornton (our 2nd-year running back), who was trailing me on the play. Needless to say, Jack stopped Thornton cold, then proceeded to stand over me, screaming and hollering and calling me some very bad names. In the heat of the moment, I lost my head. As Lambert turned to walk away, I dug my way out from under Thornton (who was still draped across my legs, perhaps shaking out the cobwebs), angrily scrambled to me feet and took a swing at Lambert, catching him flush across the earhole.
In retrospect, that was not a very smart thing for a rookie tight end to do to an already angry Jack Lambert. I thought he was mad before... but he wasn't. Now he was mad. We exchanged some wild punches -- and what can only be described as "colorful" language -- before the coaches and some teammates pulled us apart. I was never so relieved! I didn't sense that relief from him, however.
It turned out to be my only really memorable time with the great Steelers of the late-70's, as I was cut soon after. I'm suspect he'd have no memory of it, since I don't imagine it was an isolated incident in his long career. But it was certainly memorable for me. How a skinny body like his could have packed so much punch is just beyond me. That the difference between simply great players and mythical legends, I guess...
It was fun for me to get that "cup of coffee" in the bigs, with the greatest team in NFL history without a doubt. Even my failure was a success for me, so I was proud to have been given the chance.
Written by Mark Dufresne