Ex-Steeler Russell to sign book today at mall
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By Shawn Wood
For The Daily Item
HUMMELS WHARF — There’s an NFL Films sound bite where a coach says, ‘This is a game of heart.
Focus and finish.’ And by making the decision to listen to his heart instead of his brain when he was contemplating retirement in 1971, Andy Russell stayed on to become part of the famed Pittsburgh Steelers ‘Steel Curtain’ defense that included Jack Lambert, Jack Hamm, ‘Mean’ Joe Green and Donnie Shell. He earned two Super Bowl rings, in 1974 and 1975.
Russell is in Hummels Wharf today to sign his third book, ‘Beyond the Goalpost’ a perspective on life before and after football with insight on lessons he learned from mentors along the way.
Russell, who played his first pro season in 1963, was the Steelers’ team captain for 10 years and appeared in seven Pro Bowls. Today, he lives in Pittsburgh and is a managing partner of Laurel Mountain Partners and is a board member of Economics Pennsylvania.
Russell’s other books are “A Steelers Odyssey” and “An Odd Steelers Journey.”
And in a way, Russell can relate to Brett Favre’s decision to come back and play this year.
“I was making more money in business than I was in football in 1971,” he said. “So I sat down and listed the reasons to do both and assigned values to each item. When I added up the points, they were on the side of staying in business, and that’s what my brain was telling me to do. But I couldn’t go against my heart. I had to go with it. So I can relate to what Brett went through.”
Russell was a Parade All-American running back in high school in St. Louis, Mo., and played his college football at Missouri for Dan Devine.
It was in his senior year of college that Devine, who believed that you put your best players on defense, came to Russell and told him of the change from a two-way player to linebacker.
“I wasn’t happy with it but it turned out great as it’s the premier position in football as you have to memorize opponents tendencies, and that can have a negative impact on their offense,” he said with a laugh.
Russell’s first break in the NFL came in a game at Franklin Field against the Philadelphia Eagles. Pro Bowl veteran John Reger was injured with a concussion and his backup injured his ankle the very next play. Russell was sent in and started the next week. He missed the 1964 and ’65 season while serving as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army in Germany where he played football and was named most outstanding player one year.
Russell holds an NFL record for the longest recovery of a fumble for a touchdown in a playoff game.
“I can’t take full credit for all of the play as Jack (Hamm) broke through the line and made the tackle and the ball bounced right to my hands and I ran for a 93-yard touchdown,” he said. “But the other record attached to the play is the amount of time it took for me to score,” he added with a laugh.
“The players had their own thoughts on how long it took me to score. Franco Harris said the team could have showered and come back and still caught the end of the run. Terry Bradshaw, who Russell says may be the most physically talented quarterback to have played the game, said I could have been flagged for delay of game and Hamm added that ‘NBC could have cut to commercial and when they came back, I’d still be running’,” he added with a laugh.
One staple of Steeler Nation is the Terrible Towel, something of which Russell was not a fan.
“Myron Cope came into the locker room and was showing players this towel that was a promotion from the radio station and I told him it was a dumb idea, even from him,” he said.
Russell is a fan of the game today, and he does get to a number of home games during the year. He likes current Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and the way he thinks, while calling Chuck Noll a genius who made him a better player.
Concussions have been at the forefront of stories in the NFL this year and Russell said he can recall about 10 of them. But probably his most memorable came in a game against Green Bay.
“It was one of those hits that I saw the flash of white light, so I knew I had a concussion,” he said. “But in those days, you didn’t lay on the ground to show your opponent you were hurt. So I got up and staggered back to the huddle. Bart Starr grabbed me and said, ‘Andy, you’re in the wrong huddle.’” Russell said the hardest running back to tackle was Jim Brown.
“He could either run over you or make you miss,” he said. “He had a genius about him.”
Russell also sees a lot of sloppy tackling, especially from defensive backs these days and he doesn’t like the way the players play to the crowd.
“That’s silliness to me,” he said. “We were not taught that way back in the day and we played hurt as well.
They’d give you a shot of novocaine and you sucked it up and went back in.”