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Steelers Hall-of-Famer Jack Ham would be a "special teams backup” today?

Four Super Bowl Rings, NFL Hall-of-Fame, Seven times an All-Pro

… who the hell is Doug Whaley?

To be honest, I have never heard of Doug Whaley. However, I know now that he is one of the people whom the Pittsburgh Steelers recently rejected for the role of general manager.

And for good reason, as you will see.

Apparently, he was the Buffalo Bills general manager before they became a power again. He was responsible for the Bills hiring Rex Ryan as their head coach — and everyone knows what a disaster that was.

In short, after his disastrous stint in Buffalo, he has gone from the NFL to the XFL.

So, that should give me pause before even commenting on his latest gaffe.

Falls to the XFL

Whaley is a Pitt grad who played little for the Panthers. He is a graduate of Upper St. Clair High School, so perhaps that is why the Steelers hired him.

However, when he denigrates one of the greatest linebackers in Steeler history, he shows why his career trajectory is headed toward to bottom.

On a radio show earlier in June, he said this about Jack Ham, the winner of four Super Bowls and an NFL Hall-of-Famer,,

Jack Ham would be a special teams backup. He was 215 pounds… Give me his physical dimensions. He’s 6’2”, 210-215.

Tim Benz, “Steelers legend Jack Ham responds to Doug Whaley's comments about how he'd be a special teams backup today,” Tribune-Review, June 1, 2022

Perhaps that acumen is why he was summarily dismissed by the Bills in 2017, leading to the rejuvenation of the team that is now in the upper echelon of the NFL.

The Jack Ham Resume

To review Jack Ham’s stellar career with the Steelers that led to his induction into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1988, here are just a few of the relevant stats,

  • Four Super Bowl championships

  • All Pro Seven times

  • Pro Bowl Eight times

  • 32 interceptions in 12 seasons

Jack Ham was a consensus All-America at Penn State and the 34th player taken in the 1971 National Football League Draft. His sensational rookie training camp earned him a starting left linebacker spot for the Pittsburgh Steelers in his first regular season game.

The clincher was a three-interception performance against the New York Giants in the preseason finale.

Ham started all 14 games as a rookie and he continued to hold a regular job until his retirement after the 1982 season. Durable, he missed only four games his first 10 seasons in the NFL. Ham, who was born December 23, 1948, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, quickly earned the reputation as a big-play defender and one of the finest outside linebackers in the game.

He wound up his career with 25 sacks, 21 opponents' fumbles recovered and 32 interceptions. Blessed with speed, quickness, intelligence and exceptional mobility, Ham had the uncanny ability to diagnose plays and to be in the right defensive position at all times.

Along with defensive tackle Joe Greene and defensive end L. C. Greenwood, Ham was a key element in an exceptionally strong left side of the Pittsburgh defense during the team's Super Bowl years. Jack played in Super Bowls IX, X and XIII but was forced to sit out Super Bowl XIV because of injuries. He also played in five AFC championship games and it was his 19-yard interception return to the Oakland 9-yard-line that setup the Steelers' go-ahead touchdown in their first ever championship victory.

Ham was named to the All-AFC team for the first time in 1973 and then was a universal All-Pro choice the next six seasons through the 1979 campaign. In 1975, the Football News named him the Defensive Player of the Year. He was named to eight straight Pro Bowls.

NFL Hall of Fame

Ham’s response

After hearing of Whaley’s comments, here is part of what Ham, who is now in his mid-70s — and has four more Super Bowl rings than Whaley — said,

Doug Whaley doesn't think Jack Ham would have cut it in today's NFL!

But Ham — who claims he actually topped out at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds — said that’s flawed thinking.

“We are talking about totally different eras,” Ham said.

“I retired 40 years ago. 1982. If I was playing today’s game with the nutrition they have, the weight training involved today, the way the passing game is going, that was one of my strengths as well. I would take advantage of all of those things, and I think I would be able to play in today’s game and be just as effective.”

Ham — a Hall of Famer and [six]-time All-Pro — was renowned for his work in coverage. And he says the amount of time he would’ve spent defending the pass actually would’ve helped his reputation.

“I loved the passing game,” Ham said. “I ended up with 37 interceptions (five postseason) as a linebacker, and (in) today’s game, that weakside linebacker is part safety, part linebacker and that would be a perfect position for me in today’s game.”

Tim Benz, Tribune-Review, June 1, 2022

Remembering Ham from 1971

Jack Ham graduated from Penn State in the same year that I did, 1971, so I remember him vaguely though I never met him.

As he prepared for the 1971 draft, he had one rap that Whaley was pointing to: His weight. He was 6-foot, 3-inches tall, but was only about 215 pounds, which some said would hurt him in the draft.

However, he had two qualities that Whaley ignores: Speed and intelligence. Those are what made him a success in the NFL, along with a strong Johnstown work ethic.

What I still remember is running into him at a small restaurant on College Avenue in State College. Since I did not have a class on Tuesdays and Thursdays until 11:10, I would sleep in and then rush down to this restaurant. It had a 99 cent breakfast that included two eggs, bacon, two pieces of toast, and a cup of tea (for me).

And it was tasty and filling.

However, what I remember is that Jack would be in there at the same time, eating three or four of those breakfasts in an attempt — I assumed — to put on weight.

Funny what little things we remember after 50+ years.

Ham did not need the weight. He started all 14 games his rookie season and started a Hall of Fame career.

Special teams backup? That is sort of like going from an NFL executive to XFL lackey.

And that is no way to describe Jack Ham who went from the Johnstown Parochial League to Bishop McCort to Penn State to the Steelers and to the NFL Hall of Fame.

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