From the PG Archives: Toe ends Lambert's 11-year reign as Steeler LB

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This story from the Post-Gazette archives was first published on July 12, 1985.

Jack Lambert says some of his fondest memories as a Steeler were the times he spent listening to stories told by Art Rooney Sr.

Art Rooney Sr. said if Lambert had listened a little more attentively last September, his career might have lasted another four or five years.

"I told him I think his toe is a lot more serious than he thought it was," Rooney said.

They were prophetic words because a dislocated left big toe ultimately led to Lambert's retirement yesterday from the Steelers.

Lambert injured the toe on the second play of the 1984 season against the Kansas City Chiefs in Three Rivers Stadium on Sept. 2. Rooney's warning went unheeded. Lambert admitted he aggravated the injury by playing against Cleveland Sept. 23 and San Francisco Oct. 14. He was finally put on the injured reserve list for four weeks in December and returned to play in the AFC championship game againt Miami.

"This is second-guessing, but when he got his toe hurt...I think it would've been fine to go on the {injured reserved list}," Rooney said. "I knew if he wasn't on it, he would always be trying to play. Whether or not just staying out 30 days would've cured him, I don't know...I believe if it wasn't for the toe, he could've played four or five more years of top-notch football."

Lambert, however, refused to second-guess.

"There's no way of telling,'' he said. "It's all hindsight now."

It is also history, all 11 years of Lambert's brilliant career with the Steelers, nine of them as an All-Pro and four of them on Super Bowl champs. Lambert is the last to retire of the 22 starters who played in the team's first Super Bowl in 1975. Only three players remain who played on all four Steeler Super Bowl teams: John Stallworth, Mike Webster and Donnie Shell.

"You can assume Larry Brown has retired," said team spokesman Joe Gordon.

Lambert's retirement came when he picked up the telephone on Monday, his 33rd birthday, and called the Rooneys and Coach Chuck Noll.

"The last two days have been very difficult," said Lambert, who was dressed in a conservative gray suit as he talked to an overflow media crowd at Steelers' offices in Three Rivers Stadium yesterday. "It's easy to say you're going to retire, but to actually make the phone call to Mr. Chuck Noll...

"I've been playing football every day for 20 years. It's hard to imagine it's over. I regret it went so fast."

He wants to be rememberd "simply as someone who played the best he could," and admitted he played in a town where that kind of work ethic was appreciated.

"There are a lot of steelworkers in this town, a lot of hard-working people...I think they know who's working hard. I think they thought I was out there working hard."

The toe still hurts, he said. He can't push off it, and if he were 22 years old instead of 33 he would consider laying off a year. He's not sure what his plans are, but he said he will do no coaching except at his camp for kids at Alliance, Ohio.

Lambert would have earned $300,000 in base salary and more in bonuses and incentives had he played another year. But he said he cheated Art Rooney out of money last year and refused to do it again.

"Last year was probably the most difficult of my life in football," Lambert said. "It was the first time in my life I felt I didn't deserve a paycheck. I felt embarrassed."

Countered Rooney: "He derserved anything he's ever gotten. He didn't get a free ride.

"This," added the Steeler owner, "is a sad day. We're losing a great man...He's one ballplayer I believe could have played in any era. He would've fit right in. I believe he was as good as any."

Dan Rooney, Art's son and the Steeler president, said Lambert "set the tone" for the great Steeler football teams and that "I thank him for all the things he's done for us."

That tone never turned somber yesterday. Lambert went out dry-eyed, thanked reporters for letting him be Jack Lambert and bid the Steelers and their fans a fone adieu.

"There is not an owner or organization, a team or a coaching staff, or people in a city that I would rather play for in the entire world," he said. "The kindess Arthur J. Rooney Sr. has shown over the years and the kindess the people in the city of Pittsburgh have shown is kindess I can never repay.

"I loved every second of it."


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