Pittsburgh Steelers Icon Jack Lambert’s Toothy Image

Growing up, football seemed like a tougher sport than today, in the good old days when the Pittsburgh Steelers defense was the immovable object of the gridiron. And at the center of that defense was middle linebacker Jack Lambert, whose characteristically toothless smile helped make him not only a defensive legend, but an immortal image from my childhood. 

Jack Lambert was not a priority pick for the Steelers. Originally a quarterback at Kent State, he shifted over to defense in his sophomore year, first as a defensive end, then as middle linebacker in his junior year. When he helped Kent State win a MAC football championship and play in the Tangerine Bowl, he put himself in a place to be noticed. NFL scouts who came out to see more high-profile players took notice of the tough, fast, smart middle linebacker who was named MVP for Kent State.

After his senior year, many in the NFL thought Jack Lambert was too small for the NFL, but the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second round, though he didn’t get to play until starting middle linebacker Henry Davis was injured. Once on the field, though, Lambert proved himself, becoming NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and helping the Pittsburgh Steelers win their first Super Bowl (IX), beating the Vikings in an epic defensive struggle 16-6.

A Professional Asset

However, Lambert himself would later be compared to a Viking, because of the portrait of him painted by Merv Corning. Showing his toothless snarl from inside his Steelers helmet, and wearing his disheveled grey overcoat against the chill Pittsburgh winter, it’s easy to see how his intensity would intimidate foes and inspire teammates.

Along with excited foot pumping before the snap, the missing teeth helped Lambert create the image of an intense fighter for his team. He fostered this image when threw Cowboys’ free safety Cliff Harris to the turf in Super Bowl X for a belittling comment to Steelers kicker Roy Gerela. After the game, his coach described the incident, which almost got Lambert thrown out, “Jack Lambert is a defender of what is right.”

Lambert also fostered this image with his intermittent conflict with quarterback from the local rival Browns. When asked about the hits judged to be late by the referee, Lambert said, “Quarterbacks should wear dresses,” because the NFL was doing too much to protect them.

Former Pittsburgh scouting director Art Rooney, Jr. said of the image, “It’s like the old Greek drama, where they’d wear masks.” Lambert put on the tough guy image for the game when he took out his removable denture for playing. He accepted monikers like “Count Dracula in cleats” and “the pro from Pittsburgh, Transylvania,” because it was part of his image.

A Personal Hardship

Off the field, though, it seems Jack Lambert had a much more ambivalent relationship to his toothless appearance. If you see images of him in “civilian” clothes, his smiles are tight-lipped. Even in the images of him and his Harley-Davidson riding buddies from his official site, he gives a closed smile.

According to his mother, his sensitivity about his teeth goes back to his childhood, shortly after he lost his teeth in a basketball—not football—accident. His mother says that when he lost his bridge swimming, he stayed out of school until the dentist made him a replacement.

You Have a Choice for Teeth Replacement

There’s no doubt that his toothless appearance helped make Jack Lambert an image. It’s doubtful that it helped make him a football great—his intensity, athleticism, and “football smarts” did that—and it’s unclear whether it helped him be the person he wanted to be, which was that of a gentle, thoughtful man off the field, according to most accounts.

When Jack Lambert lost his teeth, a removable denture was essentially the only replacement option—he didn’t have a choice. Today, though, if a child or adult loses several teeth, dental implants can be used to give replacements that are as attractive, functional, and durable as natural teeth.

If you live in the Pittsburgh area and want to learn more about dental implants, please contact Dentonics, Inc, providing dental excellence to the region since 1925.