Jack Lambert “Jack Splat”

Daniel Collins

Written by: Daniel Collins


Read Time: 3 minutes

Jack Lambert, also known as “Jack Splat”, was a tough-tackling, fearsome linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1970s and 80s. Standing at 6 feet 4 inches with wide shoulders, Lambert had the perfect physique for a defensive football player and he was a central component of the Pittsburgh Steelers notorious ‘Steel Curtain’.

Intimidation was one of Lambert’s greatest threats on the field. This was so severe that opposition quarterbacks believed the snap wasn’t worth receiving when they came up against “Jack Splat”; they knew exactly what was coming after the ball was in their hands.

“Splat” wasn’t Lambert’s only nickname. Opponents often called him, “Dracula in Cleats”, showing reference to his evil demeanor. “Smilin’ Jack” was another famous nickname for the towering linebacker- a sarcastic reference to Lambert’s terrifying smile and lack of teeth, which were knocked out during a high-school basketball match.

But Lambert’s portrait as a monster wasn’t the only factor that made him such a great football player. He is remembered equally for his blend of athleticism, speed, positioning, and intelligence to read the game, which led to an impressive 11-year career in the NFL.

Career overview

Lambert’s football career began at Kent State University, Ohio, where he developed a reputation as a promising linebacker. In 1972, Lambert was part of a Kent State team which included a skilled backline with two future pro coaches in the ranks – Nick Saban and Gary Pinkel.

The Golden Flashes won the Mid-American Conference Championship in 1972. However, among such a gifted defense, it was Lambert who stood out the most and he won the Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year award for the 1972 season.

Two years later, Lambert was selected by the Steelers in the second round of the 1974 NFL draft. He became part of a defensive unit that included several Pittsburgh legends with “Mean” Joe Greene, L.C Greenwood, Ernie Holmes, and Dwight White, already established senior players.

Such high-quality competition for starting places did not faze Lambert. Despite being the youngest and most inexperienced defender on the team, he made a big impression in his first season, claiming the starting middle linebacker role in the defensive line.

Lambert played 14 games in the 1974 season and he won the 1974 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award for his supreme level of consistency. As a result, “Jack Splat” quickly became a fan favorite in Pittsburgh.

Major achievements; including records, awards, etc.

Lambert was a huge part of the Steelers’ success for over a decade and was named in the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1970s and 80s.

“Splat” was an integral part of the Steeler’ four Superbowl titles between 1975 and 1980. But 1976 was a particularly strong individual season for Lambert and he won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Between 1975 and 1983, Lambert played in nine successive Pro Bowls. Only New York Giants, “L.T” Lawrence Taylor, has featured more in the linebacker position in Pro Bowl history with 10 appearances. The only seasons Lambert didn’t feature in a Pro Bowl was his first, as a rookie, and his last before retirement in 1984.

During his career, Lambert only missed six games due to injury. Overall, he played in 146 games for Pittsburgh and was an absolute rock for the Steelers, making nearly 1,500 tackles in total – a fitting testament to his nickname. Lambert also made 28 interceptions, which returned 243 yards for his team, and 17 fumble recoveries in his 11-year career.

Lambert’s influence on the Steelers’ defense was highlighted by his long-term captaincy of the defensive unit; a role he held for eight successive years between 1976 and 1984. However, in July 1985, Lambert was forced to retire due to a particularly bad toe injury, which limited his mobility on the field.

“Jack Splat” was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990 and he is regarded as one of the best linebackers in NFL history. Since retiring, Lambert left his menacing football profile behind. Initially, he spent years volunteering as a deputy wildlife officer in Western Pennsylvania but he now spends his time coaching amateur baseball and basketball teams.