Defense always got it done

As a part of the NFL’s 100th season the league has been counting down the best all-time, from plays, to teams, and everything in between.

Now they have taken the next step, naming the Top 100 players in NFL history to the NFL 100 All-Time Team.

And tonight, it's about the defense. As a part of the Top 100 there were 14 defensive linemen and 12 linebackers selected. And you can’t talk defense and not talk Steelers football.

On Thursday night the NFL previewed the list, announcing Joe Greene was part of the All-Time Team. On Friday night NFL Network unveiled the rest of the top players at those positions, and yes, the black and gold was represented with Jack Ham and Jack Lambert joining Greene on the list.

Joe Greene
Defensive Tackle (1969-81)
Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame: 1987

Joe Greene changed what it meant to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He changed the mindset of those who wore the black and gold, starting with his teammates in the 1970s, with his impact still lasting today.

Greene, a man who admittedly was disappointed to be drafted in the first-round by the team in 1969 when they were a losing franchise, through his play and dedication made those who were drafted after him honored to be selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Greene, the leader of the Steel Curtain defense for 13 seasons, the Hall of Fame defensive tackle who helped bring four Super Bowl championships to Pittsburgh, the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is the player who helped shape the franchise and he was honored for everything he did when his No. 75 was retired in 2014, only the second number in franchise history ever to be retired.

“When you look at it, Joe Greene was the guy who anchored that whole football team,” said fellow Hall of Famer and former teammate Mel Blount. “Not just on the field, but Joe Greene was a stabilizer. He kept everything in the locker room even keeled. He was a great leader. Joe Greene was a tremendous guy for the Steelers.”

Greene was selected to the Pro Bowl 10 times, including eight straight years from 1969-76. He was a five-time first-team All-Pro selection, 11-time first-team All-AFC selection, NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice (1972 and 1974) and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1969. He was named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, the 1970s All-Decade Team and the Steelers 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.

Greene’s best season came in 1974 when not only was his on field play stellar, earning NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors, but he also was an emotional leader, inspiring his teammates en route to the team’s first Super Bowl victory in Super Bowl IX.

“From an attitude standpoint, a desire, he’d do whatever you had to do to win,” said his late Coach Chuck Noll. “He was special from a leadership standpoint. Everybody thinks leadership comes from how you talk, but it really doesn’t. Leadership on the field from a football player is how you perform. If you’re a performer, you can be a leader. Joe was an outstanding performer, and he led that way.”

His performance in the AFC Title game against the Oakland Raiders that led up to the Super Bowl was in one word, dominant.

“I have the ultimate respect for Joe Greene,” said former Raiders offensive guard Art Shell. “He was a great player. He was the catalyst for that football team. Joe was a great player. I think he was the best Steelers player ever. The battles were always fun, a lot of pushing and shoving, a little trash talking afterwards. We had a lot of banter, a lot of fun.

“His play was intimidating. You would see him walk on the field and he would give you that little sneering smile he had, and he would get a little laugh. Once that ball was snapped, you knew it was a war. He came and brought it every time. You knew you were in a physical battle the whole game.”

Greene followed that up with an interception and fumble recovery in the win over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX, the first of four Super Bowl wins he would be instrumental in.

When Greene stood on the steps of the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, with former Coach Chuck Noll as his presenter, his love for the Steelers fans shown through.

“In Pittsburgh, if you are not at the stadium at 1:00 on Sunday in the fall, you are at the wrong place,” Greene said in his speech. “They are always there. Without the fans it is something different and we certainly appreciate and love you for that. And you have impacted my life because you are important.”

Jack Ham
Linebacker (1971-82)
Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame: 1988

The Steelers selected Jack Ham in the second round of the 1971 NFL Draft and the consistent, steady linebacker played his entire 12-year career in the black and gold.

Ham earned a starting job right out of the gate at left outside linebacker as a rookie after picking off three passes in the preseason finale that year. He held onto the starting role through his entire career, showing his durability by missing only four games in his first 10 seasons.

Ham was named the Football News Defensive Player of the Year in 1975, and was selected to eight straight Pro Bowls. He was named All-Pro six times and All-AFC seven times.

The intelligent linebacker who changed the way the position was played outside, was a key component in the Steelers run to their first championship in Super Bowl IX when he returned an interception 19 yards to the Oakland nine-yard line in the 1974 AFC Championship game to put the Steelers in position to score the go-ahead touchdown and advance to the Super Bowl.

Ham, who played in five AFC Championship games, was a key component during the team’s Super Bowl years, and while he played in Super Bowl IX, X and XIII, he missed Super Bowl XIV because of injuries. 

He retired after the 1982 season with 25 sacks, 21 fumble recoveries and 32 interceptions to his credit. The combined 53 takeaways are the most ever by a non-defensive back. Ham was All-Pro six times, All-AFC seven times and selected to the Pro Bowl eight time. 

He was also named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team, the NFL All-Time Team, the Steelers 75th Anniversary Team and the NFL’s Team of the Decade for the 1970s.

Ham also earned a spot on the coveted Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary Team alongside linebacker Lawrence Taylor.

Andy Russell, who occupied the middle linebacker spot while Jack Lambert held down the other outside spot, wrote about Ham and a game against the San Diego Chargers in 1975. The Steelers had a comfortable lead, when both players were substituted for to give them a rest. As they stood on the sidelines talking about Ham’s involvement in the coal business, the Chargers intercepted and returned the ball to the three-yard. Ham was sent back into the game to try and secure a shutout.

“The first play the Chargers ran was a sweep to the right,” wrote Russell. “Bad idea. Ham took their giant tight end, threw him aside, speared the runner behind the line of scrimmage causing him to fumble, which of course Jack recovered. As he slowly walked off the field, he casually flipped the ball to the ref. Returning to our position on the sideline, Jack turned to me smiling and said, ‘Where was I?’” 

The Steelers won the game, 37-0. The rest, as they say, is history.

Jack Lambert
Linebacker (1974-84)
Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame: 1990

He was one of the most menacing linebackers ever to play in the NFL, known fondly as “Jack Splat” or “Dracula in Cleats.” When opposing players looked across the line, they would see the fierce look in his eyes, the intense glare, the missing teeth, and there were times they didn’t want to take the snap.

“We’re the Pittsburgh Steelers. We’re supposed to be the intimidators,” Lambert once said.

And with Lambert leading the charge, they were. Lambert didn’t take well to others trying to intimidate, and when it happened, there was a price to pay. In Super Bowl X Cowboys’ safety Cliff Harris taunted Roy Gerela, patting him on the head following a missed field goal. Lambert didn’t like it, and responded by body slamming Harris to the ground. 

Remember this is the guy who said this in regards to protecting quarterbacks: “It might be a good idea to put dresses on all of them. That might help a little bit.”

Lambert, the Steelers second-round pick in the legendary 1974 draft class, was special right off the bat, winning the starting middle linebacker job his rookie year and holding on to it for his 11-year career. 

He won the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the year that season, and two years later was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year and became known as one of the premier linebackers of his era, with a combination of intelligence, intensity, speed and range.

Lambert was named to nine straight Pro Bowls, was All-Pro eight times, and a team defensive captain for eight years. He played in six AFC Championship games and was a member of the Steelers four Super Bowl winning teams in the 1970s.

Lambert had 28 career interceptions, including a pivotal one late in Super Bowl XIV that secured the win.

Known for his durability, Lambert missed only six games during his first 10 seasons, but his career came to an end after he suffered a serious toe injury in 1984.

And just like he silenced opposing offenses, only Lambert could silence the fans at his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction.

With chants of “Here We Go Steelers, Here We Go” from the Steelers faithful, Lambert told them, “Thank you, let’s get this done.”

With that, they were silent and Lambert began his speech, thanking those who made a difference in his life and career, including the coaches who meant the most to him. He also talked about what a special place Pittsburgh was and how much he loved playing for the Steelers.

“On the day I retired from pro ball, I made this statement; 'There is not an owner, or a team, or a coaching staff, or people in a city that I would rather have played for in the entire world,'” said Lambert in his speech. “The kindness that Arthur J. Rooney and his family have shown me over the years -- and the kindness that the people of Pittsburgh have shown me over the years -- are the kindnesses that I can never repay. Five years later, I appreciate and stand by these words even more.

“I was so fortunate to have played on some of the greatest teams of all time and arguably the greatest defense ever assembled. And finally, how fortunate I was to play for the Pittsburgh fans... a proud and hard-working people who love their football and their players.

“If I could start my life all over again, I would be a professional football player, and you damn well better believe I would be a Pittsburgh Steeler!”

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