Last in a series detailing the Steelers’ 1974 Draft to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the selecting of wide receiver Lynn Swann, linebacker Jack Lambert, wide receiver John Stallworth, and center Mike Webster.
The 1974 Draft didn’t instantly transform the Steelers into a dynastic collaboration destined to win four Super Bowls in six seasons as much as it did continue to usher the franchise in that unprecedented direction.
The Steelers, after all, had been flashing their draft acumen ever since Chuck Noll’s arrival as coach in 1969.
“What about the Jack Ham draft?” observed Bill Nunn, the Steelers’ assistant director of player personnel in 1974 and a senior assistant, player personnel today. “Look that one up. That was a hell of a draft.
“I never hear anybody talk about that draft.”
The “Jack Ham draft,” as Nunn anointed it, netted Ham, a linebacker from Penn State, on the second round in 1971. Also a part of the 1971 draft, among others, were Grambling wide receiver Frank Lewis (first round), USC tight end Gerry Mullins (fourth round), Texas A&M-Commerce defensive end Dwight White (fourth round), Kansas tight end Larry Brown (fifth round), Texas Southern defensive tackle Ernie Holmes (eighth round) and Western Illinois defensive back Mike Wagner (11th round).
Ham was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988.
His arrival in Pittsburgh had been preceded by the selections of defensive tackle Joe Greene in 1969 (HOF, 1987) and quarterback Terry Bradshaw (HOF 1989) and cornerback Mel Blount (HOF 1989) in 1970.
The year following the “Jack Ham draft” produced running back Franco Harris (HOF 1990).
Noll eventually joined his former players in Canton in 1993.
The 1974 talent expedited the Steelers’ hoarding of bronze busts and commenced their collecting of Super Bowl rings.
Lambert (second round 1974, HOF 1990) was a six-time All-Pro, the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1974 and the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1976.
Stallworth (fourth round 1974, HOF 2002) was an All-Pro in 1979 and the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year in 1984.
Webster (fifth round 1974, HOF 1997) was a five-time All-Pro.
Acquiring players destined for such greatness by a team that had made the playoffs the previous two seasons and considered itself on the cusp of championship contention was “kind of like icing on the cake for the next six or seven years,” Wagner said. “It just topped everything off.
“They really fit in well, and they ended up deserving everything they got. They made it easier on the rest of us, that’s for sure.”
Beyond what they accomplished on the field and what they authored in the record book, Swann, Lambert, Stallworth, and Webster became iconic figures on what became the NFL’s Team of the Decade in the 1970s.
The images they inspired endure.
*Swann and Stallworth on the cover of Sports Illustrated (Swann after Super Bowl X and Stallworth following Super Bowl XIV).
*Lambert glaring out from behind his facemask with missing teeth and a menacing expression.
*And Webster breaking the huddle wearing short sleeves despite frigid conditions, his biceps betraying the franchise’s trademark whatever-it-takes approach.
“We hit the jackpot that year,” assistant coach Dick Hoak recalled.
That’ll happen when you draw four of a kind.