Tales from the Beat: Timid writer meets intimidating Jack Lambert

By Allen Moff | Staff Writer Published:

By Allen Moff | Staff Writer

I’ve been a sports writer for nearly 21 years now, and I can only recall feeling intimidated before one interview, which also happens to be my favorite interview of all time.

I grew up a huge Browns fan, and started really understanding what was going on in the late 1970s — when Pittsburgh was piling up Super Bowl victories.

I now know better than to waste energy on resentment, but back then I flat-out hated the Steelers with a passion. And the Steeler I loathed most was Jack Lambert.

I had no idea Lambert went to nearby Crestwood High School or starred for the college in my county, Kent State.

But if I had known, it wouldn’t have mattered one bit. To me, Lambert symbolized everything I despised about the Steelers.

In my 7-year-old eyes, he was the dirtiest player on the filthiest team to ever play the game of football.

Fast forward to 1997.

I’m now the Kent State beat writer for the Record-Courier, and golf coach/former KSU football kicker Herb Page invites me to a 25-year reunion for the 1972 Mid-American Conference champion Golden Flashes football team at Windmill Lakes.

Almost all of the big names are on hand, including Jack Lambert himself, who no one had seen much of since his NFL playing days had ended in 1984.

Lambert had a reputation both on and off the field as being one mean SOB. I had heard he wasn’t the most polite fellow to interview, but I was encouraged by Page and several of the other former players to ask for one after we had completed our round of golf.

I couldn’t help but remember how badly I hated this guy when he was with the Steelers, as I worked up the courage to sit down beside him. As several of his fellow former Flashes who saw what was going on snickered, Lambert proceeded to needle me a little at first — no doubt sensing my fear. But then he quickly switched gears, and delivered a candid interview that I’ll never forget.

Lambert spoke calmly and passionately about his football days at Kent State, how a starting role opened up for him and how he seized the opportunity.

His voice rose slightly when he recalled how former R-C beat writer Harry DeVault provided motivation that would ultimately drive him to become an elite professional by questioning his ability to even play in the NFL at 6-foot-4 and just over 200 pounds.

By the end of the interview, Lambert was smiling and so was I.

The man I once hated, or at least thought I hated, years ago had become the player I respected as much as any that had ever played the game.

Talk about a moment you never saw coming.

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