Steelers legend Jack Ham 'upset' by comments that he'd be special teams backup today

The (Greensburg) Tribune Review (TNS)
Jack Ham (59) linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers in action, 1980. Location unknown. (AP Photo)

Former Pittsburgh Steelers executive — and recent general manager candidate — Doug Whaley made some headlines recently when he had a less than glowing review of Steelers legend Jack Ham.

Speaking on 93.7 The Fan earlier this month, the Pitt grad and former Buffalo Bills general manager said, " Jack Ham would be a special teams backup. He was 215 pounds... Give me his physical dimensions. He's 6'2", 210-215."

Ham got wind of those comments and disagreed.

"I was a little upset about it," Ham said Tuesday on 105.9 The X. "I would take advantage of all the things that are out there in 2022 and use them to my advantage. I don't think (Whaley) knows what kind of a player I would be in this era. If you froze me in time in the 1970s and (I) tried to play today — of course, you can't do that. But I would adapt very easily to this game."

Speaking with host Mark Madden, Ham raised a good point about era comparison arguments fans and media construct all the time, with every sport. He said we tend to take a snapshot of what an older player looked like in his day and just assume that the same physical specimen would exist in 2022.

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 postseaspon) 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."

Today's training would've helped: Ham also said the specificity of training football players get today, as opposed to his time at Penn State, would've aided his cause.

"When I ended at Penn State, the bowls, I didn't go to the combines and learn how to run 40-yard dashes for time like they do today. They are training for the combine. We never did that. We got drafted months after college football was over, and all they went on was your tape," Ham said.

As an All-American with the Nittany Lions, Ham had plenty of that. But he is unconcerned about how he would've tested at a 2022 combine.

"I was a good athlete. And I think the combine would've showed, with all the misdirection drills that they have, and the 40-yard dash — I would have trained for it as well," Ham explained. "I ran a 4.6 at Penn State and also in Pittsburgh as well. I would've adapted. All the cone drills, that was a strength for me as well. I would've done well. I think that in this day and age, I would've played as well as I did in the 1970s."

Ham should get benefit of the doubt: Let's split the difference on Ham's size and say he weighed 220 pounds. Given the weight training and nutritional advantages present from high school onward through Penn State in 2022, let's say Ham would've been 10-15 pounds heavier. That's 230-235 pounds. Luke Kuechly played at 6-foot-3, 238 pounds. Ryan Shazier was 6-foot-1, 230 pounds. Lavonte David is 6-foot-1, 233 pounds.

I'm going to go with Ham on this one. In fact — based on the struggles that the Steelers have had replacing Shazier over the years — I'd take Ham coming out of retirement wearing No. 59 at 73 years old right now.