Linebacker Tourney: Ham vs. Gelzheiser

Welcome to the opening round of the Penn State Linebacker U. Tournament, where we take the 16 greatest 'backers of the Joe Paterno era and have them square off in one-on-one battles (elections). We continue the tournament with top-seeded Jack Ham facing No. 16 seed Brian Gelzheiser. This is the last matchup of the opening round.

Penn State football

The following profiles are provided by FOS and (where applicable) the Penn State Football Encyclopedia, which was written by PSU sports historian Lou Prato. Prato also handled the seeding for this tournament.

NO. 1 JACK HAM (1968-70)

Ham received Penn State's last available scholarship in 1967 and parlayed it into a Hall of Fame career at the college and NFL levels. He teamed with Dennis Onkotz from 1968-69 to form the best linebacker tandem in the nation. Both players were light, agile and fast. Ham had three blocked punts in 1968 and a school-record four in his career. As a senior captain in 1970, he had 92 tackles and four interceptions. In a 41-13 loss at Colorado that ended PSU's 31-game unbeaten streak, Ham went down fighting, making 15 solo stops and recovering two fumbles. He is considered the most well-rounded linebacker in school history, with an ability to stuff the run, cover receivers and pressure the quarterback. A second-round draft pick by Pittsburgh in 1971, Ham was an All-Pro for nine straight seasons and NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1975. He helped the Steelers win four Super Bowls.


While not the most athletic linebacker to don the Blue and White, Gelzheiser used a no-nonsense attitude, toughness and football smarts (he was a high school quarterback) to forge a standout career in the early 1990s. He led the team in tackles as a senior (126) and junior (113) and still ranks second on the school's all-time list with 315 career stops. In an era when the Nittany Lions were known for their explosive offense, Gelzheiser was a team captain and the lynchpin of a defense that, in retrospect, probably did not receive the credit it deserved because it was on the field so much (the offense scored almost too quickly). A sixth-round draft choice by Indianapolis in 1995, his NFL career never took off due to injuries.


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