Jack Lambert's children live the sporting life in Worthington
Every so often, one of Lauren Lambert's schoolmates will realize that Lauren's father, a Little League baseball coach named Jack, was the raging, toothless middle linebacker on the Steelers' four Super Bowl teams of the 1970s.
Lauren's typical response, "That's just my dad."
Lauren's mother has witnessed a few of those encounters.
"They'll run up and say, 'That's not your dad!'" said Lisa Lambert, Jack's wife of 17 years. "The no teeth. The snarling. The legs pumping. They can't believe it's him."
Ah, but it is. The most revered of all Steelers icons has long been living a tranquil family life some 40 miles north of the site of old Three Rivers Stadium.
As tranquil, anyhow, as family life can be with four children playing about 10 different sports.
Jack and Lisa Lambert are raising their kids on a 125-acre plot in the rural outpost of Worthington (population: 763), seven miles west of Kittanning.
Jack Lambert, 52, was a volunteer deputy wildlife officer before he shifted gears several years ago. He now focuses on coaching youth baseball and basketball, tending to his land and working religiously to maintain the town's pristine ball fields.
"He fits in real well," said Dave Stewart, president of the Worthington Little League Association. "Before he started helping me mow the fields, he'd be up at (his son) Johnny's practices. One night, he said, 'You mind if I mow someday?'
"I said, 'Hell no, I don't care.'"
The Lambert clan includes Lauren, a junior at Kittanning High School; Elizabeth, a freshman; and their younger brothers John, 13, and Ty, 11.
"Most people do know (about her husband's identity), because we've lived here for 17 years," Lisa Lambert said. "But we try to keep it low. We don't flaunt it."
In fact, the Lamberts are a model of humility according to those who know them.
"They fit right into our program," said softball coach Tom Emminger. "They're very hard workers."
The Lambert girls took time to speak with a reporter after a Kittanning softball game Thursday. Lauren, who stands a shade under 6 feet, bats clean-up and plays center field for a team expected to make the WPIAL playoffs. Liz is a talented pitcher who could move into a starting role next season.
Their mother, the former Lisa Harbison of Plum, is a volunteer assistant with an impressive athletic background. She was a first-team All-ACC volleyball player at Clemson in 1980 and '81.
She met her future husband at an Oakmont nightspot in 1982, two years before Jack Lambert retired from the NFL.
Lauren and Liz are bright-eyed, well-spoken redheads who inherited their parents' competitive fire. Like their teammates, the two wear football player-style eye black during games.
Once in a while, they'll watch a tape of their father playing linebacker.
"He's a great inspiration," Lauren said. "He gets you going."
Jack Lambert doesn't watch the tapes. In fact, all remnants of his 11-year NFL career are packed in boxes in his basement.
He keeps a low profile at his daughter's sporting events, watching their basketball games from the hallway, through a window on a gym door.
"A lot of people don't know he's there," said Kittanning girls' basketball coach John Odrechowski.
The Lamberts emphasize academics and do not pressure their children in athletics, Lisa Lambert said.
Still, having a Hall of Fame father can create massive expectations. Lauren was Kittanning's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer (8.5 points per game) this past season. She's a .400-plus hitter in softball -- and sometimes senses people watching extra closely when she steps to the plate.
"They expect to see something amazing," she said, laughing.
Liz, the leading scorer on the JV basketball team, is five inches shorter than her sister but makes up for it with a large dose of dad's feistiness.
"She's sky-high no matter what -- every day, every practice," Odrechowski said. "I actually have to tell her to slow down."
The two boys likely will face more scrutiny, which is one reason their parents steered them away from football. John loves hockey -- his dad's favorite sport -- and both are into basketball and baseball.
"Keeping them away from football has probably been a good thing," Lisa Lambert said. "There's no comparison then."
Jack Lambert coaches his older son's Little League team and helps to coach his younger son's team.
"He's stern, but he's thorough," Stewart said. "The kids don't have the slightest idea who he is, either. They don't understand why the adults get so excited about seeing him."
None of the Lambert kids have been to a Steelers game, but they root for the team, and the girls sometimes wear No. 58 T-shirts to "Steelers Days" at school.
Does their father watch the games?
"Oh yeah, he watches," Lauren said.
"Not passionately," she said. "We like to hear him talk about, 'Oh, when we were playing, we wouldn't be allowed to do that.'"
Added Liz: "He'll say, 'They get warm benches. We froze.'"
"He thinks they're pampered today," Lisa Lambert said.
Jack Lambert rarely returns to the city, save for a handful of lucrative autograph-signing sessions each year. He wasn't available for an interview Thursday, but the conclusion of his Hall of Fame acceptance speech on Aug. 4, 1990, spoke eloquently to his priority in retirement.
"I would like my wife, Lisa, and my daughters to stand (his sons were not yet born)," Jack Lambert said. "There, ladies and gentlemen, is my Hall of Fame."
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