Steelers great Andy Russell, 2-time Super Bowl champ, dies at 82

ByABC News
March 2, 2024, 1:09 PM

Legendary Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Andy Russell, a two-time Super Bowl champion, has died. He was 82.

Russell died Friday, according to the Steelers. A cause of death isn't immediately known.

Russell was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection while part of the famous Steel Curtain defense. The Steelers won Super Bowl IX and X during Russell's tenure. 

He was part of a star-studded trio of linebackers featuring Jack Lambert in the middle and Jack Ham on the other side.

"If you want to be a great linebacker, you also have to be smart out there, and he taught me the mental part of the game," Ham told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I think that's what set him apart and made his career such a great career here in Pittsburgh."

Russell was a 16th-round pick in 1963 and played 12 seasons with Pittsburgh, beginning in 1963 before serving a two-year military stint. He returned to play from 1966 to 1976 and put together a streak of 168 consecutive games played, never missing a game during his career.

His teammates voted Russell the club's Most Valuable Player in 1971, a season in which the roster included future Hall of Famers Joe Greene, Mel Blount, Ham and Terry Bradshaw.

In the 1975 postseason, Russell set a playoff record for longest fumble return when he picked up the ball and ran 93 yards for a touchdown against the Baltimore Colts. The record stood until Sam Hubbard of the Cincinnati Bengals had a 98-yard return against the Baltimore Ravens on Jan. 15, 2023.

"We are saddened by the news of the passing of Andy Russell," Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a statement. "Andy was part of the foundation of the great Steelers teams of the 1970s. He was one of the few players kept by Coach Chuck Noll on the team after he became our head coach in 1969. Andy was the team captain and his leadership was a critical part of Coach Noll's development of the 1970s Steelers, which paved the way to 4 Super Bowl Championships. We were excited to induct Andy into our inaugural Steelers' Hall of Honor class in 2017.

"Andy went on to have a very successful career in business after his playing days and was a constant presence in the Pittsburgh Community. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife Cindy, and the Russell Family."

Before his NFL career, Russell played linebacker and running back for Missouri. He was inducted into the school's athletic hall of fame in 1993.

A two-way star during his collegiate career at Missouri, Russell was discouraged from playing in the NFL by his father, who told him it would be an "embarrassment to the Russell family" if Andy went to the NFL.

Russell followed his father's orders. When NFL teams sent him a questionnaire that included a query on whether he wanted to play professional football, Russell checked the box marked "no."

The only team that didn't mail him a survey was the Steelers, who made the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Russell the 220th pick and then offered him a $12,000 contract and a $3,000 signing bonus.

Russell's initial plan was to play one season for the money, then pursue an MBA. An injury to linebacker John Reger in the season opener against Philadelphia led Russell to enter the lineup to fill in and he never left.

"You talk about luck," Russell said. "If that hadn't happened, I would have played one year, got my MBA and gone into business. I just got an enormous break."

Russell hit pause after his rookie year, missing the 1964 and 1965 seasons while completing the military commitment required as a ROTC member.

When he returned, the Steelers were still mired in the standings, winning a combined 11 games over the next three seasons, with Russell's stellar play often lost amid all the losing. He did fulfill his goal, earning an MBA in finance in 1967 and launching a series of businesses, including an investment firm tied to Wall Street, and starting an investment bank.

Russell's football fortunes turned when Noll came on board. The Steelers drafted Ham in 1971 and Lambert in 1974, the trio forming one of the greatest linebacking groups in NFL history. Pittsburgh won its first two Super Bowls after the 1974 and 1975 seasons.

Russell retired after the Steelers lost to Oakland in the 1976 AFC Championship Game. 

Russell wrote three books about his career after his retirement and was an avid climber, reaching all 54 peaks in Colorado that reach an elevation of at least 14,000 feet. He remained active in the Pittsburgh community and launched the Andy Russell Charitable Foundation, which supported a variety of local charities across western Pennsylvania.

Russell, a member of the inaugural class of the Steelers Hall of Honor in 2017, is survived by his wife, Cindy, two children and seven grandchildren.

Field Level Media and The Associated Press contributed to this report.