Jack Ham

American football player (born 1948)

American football player
Jack Ham
refer to caption
Ham in 1976
No. 59
Personal information
Born: (1948-12-23) December 23, 1948 (age 75)
Johnstown, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Height:6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Weight:225 lb (102 kg)
Career information
High school:Bishop McCort (Johnstown)
College:Penn State (1968–1970)
NFL draft:1971 / Round: 2 / Pick: 34
Career history
  • Pittsburgh Steelers (1971–1982)
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Player stats at PFR
Pro Football Hall of Fame
College Football Hall of Fame

Jack Raphael Ham Jr. (born December 23, 1948) is an American former professional football player who was a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League (NFL) from 1971 to 1982. He is considered one of the greatest outside linebackers in the history of the NFL.[1][2] Ham was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1990. He played college football for the Penn State Nittany Lions. In mid-2019 the newsletter of the PSU Alumni Association rated Ham first among the 100 greatest athletes, considering all sports and all previous football players, in University history.[3][4]

Early life

Ham was born and raised in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where he attended Bishop McCort High School. He continued his education at Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock, Virginia for a post-graduate season.[5]

College football

Ham played college ball at Pennsylvania State University. In his three years as a starting linebacker, the Nittany Lions had records of 11–0, 11–0, and 7–3. In his senior year, 1970, Ham was co-captain, had 91 tackles, four interceptions, and was an All-American. He had 251 career tackles, 143 unassisted. He blocked three punts in 1968, setting a school record that was not tied until 1989.[citation needed] He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1990.[1][6]

On December 11, 2014, the Big Ten Network included Ham on "The Mount Rushmore of Penn State Football", as chosen by online fan voting. Ham was joined in the honor by John Cappelletti, LaVar Arrington and Shane Conlan.

Professional football career

Ham was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second-round (34th overall) of the 1971 NFL draft. He won the starting left linebacker job as a rookie. He was first-team All-Pro six years and was named to eight straight Pro Bowls.[1] Ham was blessed with tremendous quickness — according to Steelers coach Chuck Noll and teammate Andy Russell he was the "fastest Steeler for the first ten yards, including wide receivers and running backs".[citation needed] He was one of the few outside linebackers who could play pass defense as well as the NFL's top safeties. Although he was a ferocious hitter, he was known as a player who could not be fooled and was seldom out of position.[2] Maxie Baughan, a former NFL linebacker said of Ham, "He was one of the more intelligent players to ever play that position. He was able to diagnose plays. You couldn't ever fool him."[citation needed] Despite not being as revered as teammate Jack Lambert by fans (as well as not being as feared by opponents), some have regarded Ham as a better outside linebacker than Lambert as a middle linebacker during the Steelers dominance of the 1970s.[7]

Ham's career statistics include 25 sacks, 21 fumbles recovered, and 32 interceptions[1] (although the sack numbers are unofficial since the NFL did not begin recording sacks until Ham's final year in the league, so he officially has just three sacks).[8][9] As these numbers indicate, Ham had a flair for the big play, guided by some of the best football instincts ever found in a linebacker. Ham was a member of four Super Bowl winning teams during his 12-year career (although he did not play in Super Bowl XIV due to an ankle injury), all of it spent with the Steelers.[1][2] His 53 takeaways are the most in NFL history by a non-defensive back, while his 32 interceptions rank him 3rd all time among linebackers, behind Don Shinnick and Stan White.

"Dobre Shunka" (either Polish or Slovak for "good ham") was Ham's nickname while playing, as well as the name of Ham's fan club in the 1970s.[5]

After retirement

After announcing his retirement as an active player on February 17, 1983,[10] Ham began a career as a radio personality. He served as a color commentator for national radio broadcasts of NFL games, and later hosted a show in Pittsburgh with Mark Madden on ESPN Radio 1250 during the NFL season. Ham is currently a sports analyst for Penn State Radio Network and also appears as an analyst on the Westwood One radio network.[5]

Ham is a minority owner of the North American Hockey League's Johnstown Tomahawks. On January 31, 2013, Ham was honored by the Tomahawks' organization with a bobblehead giveaway to the first 1,000 fans who entered the Cambria County War Memorial Arena for the Tomahawks' game against the Port Huron Fighting Falcons.[11]

In 2017, Ham became an advocate of medical marijuana, having studied the benefits of relieving symptoms related to playing football, and wants the NFL to soften their stance on the use of marijuana in general. Ham felt inspired after seeing the cognitive decline of contemporary Nick Buoniconti, as well as other current and former players including former teammate Mike Webster, despite Ham himself being healthy. Ham also believes medical marijuana would help counter the ongoing opioid epidemic affecting society as a whole.[12]


Ham was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988[13] and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1990.[6] In 1999, he was ranked number 47 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players.


  1. ^ a b c d e "Hall of Fame member bio". Pro Football Hall of Fame's official site.
  2. ^ a b c Oremland, Brad (February 24, 2010). "The Best Linebackers of All-Time". Sports Central. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  3. ^ Wilson, Burt. "'Penn State's 100 Greatest Athletes:' Barney Ewell ranked No. 7". LNP | Lancaster Online. Retrieved October 10, 2020.
  4. ^ Pollock, Chuck. "Prescott's 61st of Penn State's all-time athletes". Olean Times Herald. Community Media Group. Retrieved October 10, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c "Jack Ham bio from PSU libraries". Archived from the original on March 12, 2012. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  6. ^ a b "Jack Ham". College Football Hall of Fame. Football Foundation. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
  7. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^ Branch, John (November 4, 2006). "Unofficially, Sack Record Doesn't Add Up". New York Times. Archived from the original on December 24, 2013. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  9. ^ "Jack Ham stats". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Archived from the original on January 3, 2012. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  10. ^ "Sports People: Ham of Steelers Retires", The New York Times, Friday, February 18, 1983. Retrieved November 20, 2020
  11. ^ Mike Mastovich (January 24, 2013). "Jack Ham on Tomahawks: I'm glad to be involved". Johnstown Tribune-Democrat. Retrieved September 4, 2013.
  12. ^ "Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham wants more research into use of medical marijuana". May 18, 2017.
  13. ^ "Jack Ham player profile". NFL.com. Retrieved May 26, 2010.

External links

  • National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame
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Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl IX champions
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Pittsburgh Steelers 50th season All-Time team
L. C. Greenwood
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