Andy Russell Helped Turn Steelers Into Champions

Linebacker was captain of team loaded with future Hall of Famers
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 2, 2024 3:55 PM CST
Andy Russell Was One-Third of Steelers' Star Linebackers
The Pittsburgh Steelers' Andy Russell in 1975   (AP Photo, File)

Andy Russell, the standout linebacker who was an integral part of the Pittsburgh Steelers' evolution from perennial losers to champions, has died. He was 82. There was no immediate word on the cause or place of death, the AP reports. A 16th-round pick in the 1963 draft, Russell won two Super Bowls during a 12-year NFL career interrupted by a two-year stint in the military. Russell spent 10 years as a team captain and was named to the Pro Bowl seven times. His teammates voted him the club's Most Valuable Player in 1971, a season in which the roster included future Hall of Famers Joe Greene, Mel Blount, Jack Ham, and Terry Bradshaw.

"His leadership was a critical part of Coach Noll's development of the 1970s Steelers, which paved the way to four Super Bowl Championships," Steelers President Art Rooney II said in a statement. Equal parts heady and durable, Russell was one of the few bright spots on a series of Steeler teams that finished near the bottom of the league during the first portion of his career. That changed in 1969 when Chuck Noll took over as head coach. Russell became one of the cornerstones of the championship team's defense, putting together a resume that his teammates consider Hall of Fame worthy. "It would have been easy for (Andy) to give up or be sucked into the mediocrity that he saw all around him, but he refused to do so," wrote Ham.

Russell had 38 sacks and 18 interceptions during the regular season and added three sacks and a pick during 11 playoff games. He was a standout at Ladue Horton Watkins High in the St. Louis suburbs before playing both running back and linebacker at the University of Missouri. With the Steelers, Russell, Ham, and future Hall of Famer Jack Lambert formed one of the greatest linebacking groups in NFL history. Russell wrote three books in retirement and was an avid climber, reaching all 54 peaks in Colorado with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet. He remained active in the Pittsburgh community and launched the Andy Russell Charitable Foundation. Russell was a member of the inaugural class of the Steelers Hall of Honor in 2017.

(More obituary stories.)

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