Jack Ham answered questions from a small group of local media at Cambria County War Memorial Arena when a visitor entered the suite overlooking the ice and playfully shouted:
“Ham, you parked in my parking spot.”
The Pro Football Hall of Famer and four-time Super Bowl winner with the Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty of the 1970s stopped in mid-sentence and laughed.
“I’m being heckled by Don Hall,” said Ham, minority owner of the Johnstown Tomahawks.
Hall stood in the hallway with a big smile on his face. The Jets No. 9 and the Steelers No. 59 briefly embraced before Ham continued his interview on Jack Ham bobblehead night.
Hall is a Johnstown Jets legend who netted 424 goals and 1,056 points in 11 years with the former Eastern Hockey League squad. Hall was a nine-time league all-star and part of four Jets championship squads in the 1950s and 1960s.
Ham intently followed Hall and the Jets during his early years. The future outside linebacker was among a group of youths who helped groom the ice before the game and between periods during the pre-Zamboni era.
“I was always a hockey fan growing up here,” said Ham, a Bishop McCort graduate and Penn State All-American prior to his NFL career. “My aunt would take me to Jets games. Don Hall, Dick Roberge, that line (with center Ken Coombes). The Eastern Hockey League was a big thing. I really enjoyed it. I used to come down and skate on Saturday morning.”
Hall, 82, remembered the young Ham well. The two men have had a friendship that’s lasted decades.
“Jack was a rink rat when I played,” Hall said. “He’d clean the ice. Back then they didn’t have a Zamboni. They had to do it by hand. They had a pull-cart so you could flood the ice. He’d sneak in for the hockey games.
“When they’d drop the puck, the police would open the back gates and all the young kids would run in. He was part of that group.”
The ice crew used shovels to scrape the surface and then poured barrels of water on the ice to form a new sheet during intermissions. The task now is performed in a matter of minutes by ice resurfacing machines commonly known as Zambonis.
“Hockey is in the fabric of this town,” Ham said. “I’m so glad we could bring hockey back here.”
A crowd of 2,237 attended the Tomahawks’ 3-2 win over Port Huron – a solid number for a Thursday night. That total certainly was helped by the bobblehead, which featured Ham’s likeness wearing a white Tomahawks jersey and gold Steelers pants. He holds a football in his left hand and a hockey stick in his right.
Ham spent two hours mingling with fans who attended a special reception in the Stars and Stripes room at the War Memorial. He shook hands, signed autographs and posed for photos.
Tomahawks General Manager Rick Boyd is a native of British Columbia, but he said Ham was known even in hockey-crazed Canada.
“Growing up, the Steelers even back home were legendary,” said Boyd. “Even in Canada, the Steelers were big. Jack Ham is a legend there too.”
Boyd appreciated Ham’s friendly and outgoing approach with the fans at the reception prior to the game.
“Everybody that’s involved with this organization loves the community and wants to give back,” Boyd said. “It just shows they take time out of their schedule to be a part of this for the team. I think it’s a reflection of the ownership group.”
For Ham, his role as a minority owner in his hometown is a natural fit.
“Being a minority owner is new for me,” Ham said. “I’m just glad to be a part of it. I’m glad Jim Bouchard (majority owner) was able to bring this team here because he had an opportunity to put it in different cities. I’m glad he brought it to Johnstown.”