Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Steelers legend, two-time Super Bowl champion Andy Russell dies at 82

Andy Russell, a pillar on the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ 1970s dynasty, died on Thursday night, the University of Missouri announced on Friday. He was 82 years old. 

Russell, a seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker and team captain a record 10 consecutive years (from 1967-76), is arguably the greatest Steelers player who is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, along with former teammate L.C. Greenwood and receiver Hines Ward. Russell was part of the Steelers’ inaugural Hall of Honor Class back in 2017. 

A 16th-round pick in the 1963 NFL Draft, Russell played his entire career with the Steelers, retiring after the 1976 season. He was instrumental in the development of Hall of Fame linebackers Jack Ham and Jack Lambert, who respectively joined the Steelers in 1971 and 1974. The trio helped Pittsburgh win back-to-back titles in 1974 and in 1975. In Pittsburgh’s 1975 playoff win in over Baltimore, Russell recorded what was the longest fumble return (93 yards) in postseason history. 

A year earlier, Russell was part of one of the most special moments in franchise history when he presented Steelers founder Art Rooney with the game ball after Pittsburgh defeated the Vikings to win the franchise’s first championship. Russell was just one of five players from Chuck Noll’s first Steelers team in 1969 that were still on the roster when Pittsburgh won Super Bowl IX at the end of the 1974 season. 

After toiling on bad Steelers teams for a decade, Russell ended his career with two rings while playing an instrumental role on arguably the greatest defense of all time. He is one of the key initial figures in helping the Steelers become a dynasty, along with Noll, former team president Dan Rooney, defensive tackle Joe Greene, quarterback Terry Bradshaw and running back Franco Harris. 

“We talk about him as being the third guy [as a linebacker], but he’s really the first,” Greene said of Russell back in 2018. “Andy Russell was there when we were the Steelers … you know, the team that everybody could beat. Andy suffered through some terrible years.

“Andy was a special, special teammate, experiencing all of the bad things that happened with the Steelers. He could share with the group the kinds of things that you needed to do to be successful. He was the guy that ‘brought the word’ to the locker room — and I mean by ‘bringing the word,’ the coaching philosophy, the teaching that Chuck Noll and his staff placed on us.

“He was able to translate and tell us that these are things that are going to come to pass and come to fruition. [And he’d tell us], ‘You need to listen to this guy.’ Over my 13 years I found out through experience you can have great coaches, but if you don’t have a messenger in the locker room who’s carrying his message it becomes very difficult. And Andy did that.”

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