Jack Ham is not only one of the greatest players to ever play for the Pittsburgh Steelers; he is also one of the great linebackers in the history of the game. His status as such was recently cemented by his inclusion on the NFL 100 All-Time team, which also featured a number of his teammates.
But if he’d had his way coming out of Penn State, his story would have been very different. As he recently told Stan Savran for the team’s website, he was hoping that, not only would he be drafted in the first round, he would be drafted elsewhere—preferably by an AFL team.
“I really didn’t want to be drafted here in Pittsburgh”, he said. “I was making a few bucks at a car dealership the day of the draft…and that’s when Dan Rooney called me and told me they drafted me in the second round”.
“The problem I had, being Johnstown, Penn State, a little naïve about talking to some of the pro teams, because the New York Giants called me the night before and said that they were going to draft me in the first round”, he added. “And the San Diego Chargers called me and said they were going to draft me in the first round. And I believed that”.
“I was kind of disappointed in that, and then finally when Pittsburgh drafted me—I really felt, being from this area, I thought pro football would give me the opportunity to live somewhere else for a period of time, wherever the case may be”, Ham said of the doors a professional athletic career could open. “I thought San Diego or maybe New York, or whatever, and still have my roots back here”.
He also explained that, while the fact that, at the time, the Steelers weren’t a very good team was not much of a hindrance in terms of his desire to play in Pittsburgh, he also saw his skill set better suited to another sort of team.
“I kind of identified with the AFL, I identified with those teams where you have to have a lot of speed both on offense and defense”, the Hall of Famer said. “I thought I probably would be more adapted to playing with those kinds of teams. I thought San Diego would be perfect. But it couldn’t have turned out any better for me being drafted here”.
I would certainly say that it worked out pretty well. He was among the highest-paid linebackers at the time. He was an eight-time Pro Bowler, an eight-time All-Pro (with six first-team selections), and a four-time Super Bowl champion. He was Defensive Player of the Year in 1975, a member of the 1970s All-Decade Team, of the NFL 75th-Anniversary Team, of the 100th-Anniversary team, and was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988 as a first-ballot member of the class.