Revisiting Jack Lambert’s Super Bowl X Throwdown
He has often described himself as just another average farm boy from a small town in Ohio, and willingly acknowledges himself as one of the slowest quarterbacks in the state coming out of high school. His only claim to fame from a four-year stay at Kent State, he says, was in sharing a locker room with Nick Saban and Gary Pinkel.
But it’s hard for Jack Lambert to cling to modesty while trying to illustrate his impact upon the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s hard for anybody to do so. It’s also impossible to over-emphasize Lambert’s imprint upon the outcome of Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl X victory over the Dallas Cowboys in January, 1976. As was so often the case during his illustrious 11-year Hall of Fame career, Lambert was everywhere on the playing field against the Cowboys on that sunny afternoon in Miami, doing the inconceivable with all the indifference of an unscrupulous pirate. He tackled viciously, cursed his opponent relentlessly, and authored one post-play throw-down that continues to live on in Super Bowl lore.
That Jack, a 1974 second-round draftee of the Steelers, loved to rattle his opponents was well known around the league. But nobody could have guessed just how badly Lambert wanted to beat up on the Cowboys during Super Bowl X.
Lambert had missed only one game during the 1975 campaign, and that was the preseason finale at Texas Stadium versus Dallas. As the story goes, Lambert thought he’d celebrate his first trip to the Lone Star State by dressing up like a Texan. So the 23-year old middle linebacker bought a pair of Cowboy boots and wore them to a party given by Steelers offensive tackle Jon Kolb.
The way Lambert told it, he somehow stepped into a hole while wearing the boots and sprained his ankle, forcing head coach Chuck Noll to sit him out against the Cowboys. That Lambert’s teammates were bested by Dallas 17-16 on the following night only made Lambert’s injury smart all the more.
Four months later, Lambert was looking forward to what he considered be a grudge match versus Dallas in the Super Bowl. And no, he wasn’t planning on wearing any more boots before the game.
“I’ll go barefoot or wear sneakers,” he promised.
Like many of his friends in the Pittsburgh, Lambert didn’t try to hide his disdain for Tom Landry’s intricate motion-offense.
“Dallas and Cincinnati are the toughest teams in the league to play, in my estimation,” he said in the days leading up to Super Bowl X. “They may shift three or four times before they get set. I’d rather play Oakland myself. They just come out and play football.”
It was that same Dallas offense that got the best of Lambert and the Steelers defense in the first quarter, using an assortment of pre-snap motion to confuse the Pittsburgh secondary. The result was a 29-yard touchdown pass from Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson that put the Cowboys ahead 7-0.
After nearly forty minutes of play, the Cinderella Cowboys were still out in front, albeit by a slim 10-7 margin. If Lambert had been merely concerned at the Steelers’ inability to overtake Dallas on the scoreboard, then it was frustration which was the controlling force in his third-quarter altercation with Dallas safety Cliff Harris.
Another long drive for the Pittsburgh offense had just gone up in smoke off the foot of place-kicker Roy Gerela, who missed from 33 yards away. It was his second failed field-goal attempt of the afternoon, an event which prompted an impromptu celebration from Harris.
Thrilled with his team’s good fortune, Harris walked up to the Steelers’ shocked place-kicker and playfully patted Gerela on the helmet with both hands.
“Good job. You’re helping us,” Harris told him.
Lambert was having none of Harris’ ribbing. Grabbing Harris by the shoulder pads in what he would later insist was an act of protection for his teammate, Lambert slammed Harris to the ground.
“Harris jumped up in his face and slapped him in the helmet,” Lambert explained after the game. “I thought it was unnecessary. He slapped Gerela’s helmet a couple of times. I didn’t say anything. I just threw him on the ground. Harris laughed in Gerela’s face. When I see injustice, I try to do something about it.”
Rather than toss Lambert or Harris out of the game, line-judge Jack Fette quickly intervened and directed each player to his respective bench area. No harm, no foul! Play on!
Gerela afterwards denied any wrongdoing on Harris’ part, but that didn’t stop the Steelers head coach from taking up for his hard-nosed, toothless middle linebacker.
“Jack Lambert,” said Noll, “is a defender of what is right.”