Photo reprint of Jack Ham on the January 1980 cover of Sport Magazine
Jack Raphael Ham Jr. (born December 23, 1948) is a former American football outside linebacker who played 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. Ham was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1990.
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.
Ham played college ball at Penn State. 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. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1990.
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.
Pro 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. 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”. 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. 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.”
Ham’s career statistics include 25 sacks, 21 fumbles recovered, and 32 interceptions (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). 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 twelve-year career (although he did not play in Super Bowl XIV due to an ankle injury), all of it spent with the Steelers. 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 70s.
Ham retired from professional football in 1982 and 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.
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 that entered the Cambria County War Memorial Arena for the Tomahawks’ game against the Port Huron Fighting Falcons.
Ham was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1990. In 1999, he was ranked number 47 on The Sporting News’ list of the 100 Greatest Football Players.