‘One tough son of a gun’
MERRILLVILLE — Growing up in La Porte in the 1930s and 40s, Lambert Lamberson spent his youth attending Slicers football games at Kiwanis Field, where he watched the talents of future Indiana Hall of Famers like Richard Alban, Richard Hostetler and John Steeb.
Despite weighing just 180 pounds, Lamberson used speed and intelligence to excel at offensive guard and defensive linebacker for the Slicers in a four-year career that he would parlay into four years of college football at Vanderbilt University and an eventual career as a successful businessman.
Lamberson’s career and life came full circle when he was officially inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame on May 5. The tenth Slicer to be enshrined, he joins 1980 inductees Alban, Hostetler, Steeb, Lloyd Broome, Carlton Fischer, M.D., Stanley Klimczak and Robert Yelton, Bernard Haag Jr. (1999) and Bob Strieter (2017).
Yet, inside the exterior of a player who was a recognized warrior on the gridiron from many who played with and against him, the 85-year old Lamberson expressed the deepest gratitude and humility for even considered worthy for induction.
“I was very surprised,” he admitted. “It’s the culmination of a lot of different things and a lot of different people.”
When Lamberson gave his acceptance speech at the banquet, he looked visibly moved by the moment and offered only a brief word of appreciation.
“The only thing I would like to say is that I share this honor with all the coaches I played for and all the ball players I played with,” he said.
As a four-year varsity player at LaPorte, Lamberson played under coach John Janzuruk. In his senior year in 1951, he led the Slicers to an 8-1 record while excelling on both the offensive and defensive line and was an All-State and All-Northern Indiana Conference selection as a senior. Among the talented players that Lamberson played alongside in that 1951 season was conference MVP Wayne Glassman, who played his college football at Northwestern), Rich Machek (Hanover College), and three-year starting quarterback Jack Bunce (Wabash).
Bunce, a longtime friend of Lamberson, gave his induction speech at the banquet and praised Lamberson’s football acumen and the impact that he, especially, had on that ’51 squad.
“I met ‘Lamby’ in the fifth grade,” Bunce said. “‘Lamby,’ pound for pound, is the toughest and meanest football player I ever played with and also one of the smartest. ‘Lamby’ was a student athlete, a linebacker coach on the field and our number one tackler. We allowed only 56 points in ten games. He was the leader on defense. He was a tough son-of-a-gun. To be a good lineman, you have to be big or smart and tough, ‘Lamby’ was not big, but he was a good lineman because he was smart and tough. He was 183 pounds playing both ways.”
Lamberson said that playing on both sides of the ball was typical for football players who played in his era. He admits that he did have a favorite position.
“For us, you had to go both ways,” he said. “I was a guard and a linebacker, and I enjoyed both of them and linebacker especially. It was a challenge, but we all played together. If we were weak in one area, we would pay attention to ways to strengthen that area during the game. “It was just a hell of a lot of fun; that much I can tell you. I loved Coach. He made us work on our time. He had the patience of training and teaching you the right techniques. There are very few coaches I can think of that could help you do your job. He made me a better player.”
Following his senior season at La Porte, Lamberson had spent the next four years as an equally-imposing 180-pound offensive guard and linebacker, while majoring in Engineering as a Cum Laude honors student.
“He played at Division I college at 180, and what he did is amazing,” Bunce said. “He was ready to play college football. Scholastically, he played football and concentrated on is studies. He was a family man, a religious man, and he helped anybody that needed help. There’s nobody I know who is more deserving of this honor.”
At Vanderbilt, ‘Lamby’ played on a team that upset Auburn in the 1955 Gator Bowl. His teammates selected him as the first Civitian Award winner. The honor continues today, given by teammates to the Commodores football player they most admire.
“When I went to Vanderbilt, it was the first time I left LaPorte,” Lamberson said. “I hurt my knee my freshman year and had it operated on and missed part of my sophomore year. We made it to the Gator Bowl my senior year and won. Auburn was favored, but fortunately, we survived.”
After college and a short stint in the Army, Lamberson returned to the Region and worked almost a decade at U.S. Steel, while serving the Army Reserves and coaching the Sacred Heart football team in La Porte. A job opportunity back in Nashville, however, proved to be the final leg in his market place career.
“I would go to a Vanderbilt game every year, and I would be consistently asked when I would move back to Nashville,” Lamberson said. “I told them if they can find me a good job that I would go. Lo and behold, that is exactly what they did. The man upstairs has taken care of me. He made sure that I would forget the bad stuff and remember the good stuff.”