Jack Ham, Jack Lambert and Andy Russell made up the linebacking corps of the famed “Steel Curtain” defense fielded by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s. He made the All-Rookie team in 1963, was voted All-Pro or All-Conference seven times, went to seven Pro Bowls and was named to the NFL’s All-Pro team of the 1970s. But, his father was not happy about him playing professional football. According to Russell, “My father did not want me to play professional football because it would ‘embarrass the family to play a game for a living.’ You have to be a worker.”
Russell started with the Steelers in 1963. However, he left the team after his rookie season to serve in the military. According to Russell, “In 1964 and 1965, I was in Germany as an Army Lieutenant. I got back in 1966.” While in the military, he continued to play football and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the USAREUR (U.S. Army Europe) Football in 1964.
He started all 14 games of the 1966 season and was named to his first Pro Bowl in 1968. The accolades continued to mount for Russell throughout his career as the team rose to win two Super Bowls during his tenure. He was named Defensive MVP in both 1968 and 1970, was named to six more Pro Bowls and he won the Byron “Whizzer’”White NFL Man of the Year Award, just to name a few.
After he retired from professional football, he went into business. According to Russell, “Back when I played, you knew you were not going to make any money playing football, so I had to get a real job.” He continued, “When I got back from the military, I went and got my MBA. I convinced my father that I needed to play a couple more years of professional football to pay for my MBA. Then I started my own business in 1969 selling limited partner investments for Wall Street. In the first year, I was making dramatically more money than the Steelers were paying me. I didn’t retire until after the 1976 season. I would go to meetings before practice, after practice. I would go to work on Monday. It was 24/7. I loved every minute. I am not complaining. I started an investment bank called Russell, Rea and Zappala. We ultimately sold that to J.P. Morgan. I have been in private equity for the last dozen years or so.”
In March of 1999, he created the Andy Russell Charitable Foundation to contribute funds to children’s charities. The hope was to support a number of programs, particularly research organizations concentrating on children. According to Russell, “The primary provider of capital to the foundation has been our annual golf tournament. We have a celebrity golf classic every year. This will be our 37th year. We have raised millions of dollars and given most of it to Children’s Hospital here in Pittsburgh and a lot of it over the last 10-15 years has gone to the University of Pittsburgh’s Medical Center, which is Pittsburgh’s largest employer.”
However, he does not just focus on his foundation. He is also involved with the Ray Mansfield Steelers Smoker to raise money for the Boys and Girls Clubs of western Pennsylvania. “I am the chairman of that,” said Russell. “Ray Mansfield was my best Steeler buddy and he passed away hiking the Grand Canyon; I replaced him as the chairman of that.” He also attends and contributes to events held by the Salvation Army.
Russell also works on the NFL’s Taste of the NFL: Party with a Purpose event at the Super Bowl. This event raises money to battle hunger in America. They have raised over $14 million in the 22 years that the event has been held. Russell said, “Unfortunately, we have hunger in America, so I have done that every year for the last 15 years as the representative for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They typically have 32 food stations with a famous chef from that city. All the money that is raised goes to the various food banks in each of the NFL cities. They have a competition every year to see who can raise the most money. We have won it the last few years. It is not because the chef and I are famous, but it is because the global Steeler Nation is pretty amazing. We have the longest line. It doesn’t matter if the Steelers are in the Super Bowl or not. Here will be people from Saudi Arabia. There will be people from Japan. There are Steelers bars in Moscow, Tokyo and Rome. They are all over the world!!”
His tireless charitable work has not gone unnoticed. In 1985, he was named Man of the Year by the Mel Blount Youth Home. He was also named Man of the Year by Big Brothers and Sisters in 1989. In addition, he received the Bob Prince Award (1992), the Hance Award for the St. Barnabas Foundation (1992), the Don Faurot Distinguished American Award (2005), the Myron Cope Legends in Sports Award (2008), and the Life’s Works Career Achievement Award (2008), among many other accolades.
In 2011, Russell was inducted into the Professional Football Researchers Association’s (PFRA) Hall of Very Good. The Hall of Very Good is the PFRA’s way of honoring players who have had excellent careers, but are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
When asked about his chances for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Russell responded, “That is something I leave to others to think about.” Russell continued, “There have been some things that I have done in my career that would not impress the Hall of Fame voters. For example, I was the Steeler captain for ten years. I think that is a Steeler record. That was not selected by the players. It was not a popularity contest. It was selected by the coaches. I never missed a game my entire football career; high school, college, Army or pro. It is obviously a lot of luck to avoid all those injuries. I played hurt a lot with broken fingers and thumbs, and things like that. But, you played. In those days, the biggest badge of honor was to play hurt. That is not so anymore.”
Russell currently lives in western Pennsylvania.
• All-Pro Rookie Team (1963)
• Steeler Team Captain for 10 years
• Defensive MVP (1968 and 1970)
• Named to the NFL’s All-Pro Team of the 1970s
• Pittsburgh Steelers Team MVP (1971)
• Received the Byron “Whizzer” White NFL Man of the Year Award (1972)
• Named to seven Pro Bowls
• Inducted into the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame (1983)
• Inducted into the University of Missouri Hall of Fame (1993)
• Named to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 75th Anniversary All-Time Team (2007)
• Member of the NFL’s 300 Greatest Players
• Inducted into the Professional Football Researchers Association’s Inaugural Class of the Hall of Very Good (2011)
Ken Crippen is the former executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He has researched and written about pro football history for over two decades. He won the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick Connor Writing Award for Feature Writing and was named the Ralph Hay Award winner by the Professional Football Researchers Association for lifetime achievement on pro football history.
Follow him on twitter @KenCrippen