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


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Former NFL linebacker Andy Russell, who helped the Pittsburgh Steelers transition from a struggling franchise into championship contenders, has died, the team confirmed on Saturday. He was 82.

The cause of Russell’s death was not immediately known. 

Russell won two Super Bowls during his storied run with the Steelers. He was a 16th-round draft pick in 1963 and went on to play in the NFL for 12 years. But he hit pause on his football career for two years after his rookie season to fulfill his military commitment required as an ROTC member.

Russell was named to seven Pro Bowl teams and had a ten-year stint as a team captain.

Andy was part of the foundation of the great Steelers teams of the 1970s,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a statement. “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 four Super Bowl Championships.”

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Andy Russell wearing a Steelers uniform

Pittsburgh Steelers’ Andy Russell (34) is shown in 1975. The Steelers announced Saturday, March 2, 2024, that Russell, a seven-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl winner during his 12-year career, has died at 82.   (AP Photo, File)

Russell’s greatness was on full display during the 1975 postseason, when he set a playoff record for the longest fumble return. During a game against the Baltimore Colts, Russell picked up the ball and ran 93 yards for a touchdown.

Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Sam Hubbard broke Russell’s earlier this year when he had a 98-yard return in a playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens.

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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 were to go to the NFL.

Andy Russell during a Steelers game

FILE – Steelers linebacker Andy Russell takes a break on the bench during fourth quarter action with the Baltimore Colts at Pittsburgh, December 27, 1975. The Steelers announced Saturday, March 2, 2024, that Russell, a seven-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl winner during his 12-year career, has died at 82.  (AP Photo, File)

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 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 and 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.

Andy Russell attends an NFL event

Former NFL player Andy Russell attends the Taste of The NFL 28th anniversary celebration of Party With A Purpose at The Cobb Galleria Centre on February 2, 2019, in Atlanta, Georgia.   (Gerardo Mora/Getty Images for Taste Of The NFL)

 Russell did eventually 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 retired after the Steelers lost to Oakland in the 1976 AFC championship game. He had two sacks in a divisional round blowout win over Baltimore.

Charles Andrew “Andy” Russell was born on October 29, 1941, in Detroit. He was a standout at Ladue Horton Watkins High in the St. Louis, Missouri, suburbs in the late 1950s before earning three letters at Missouri from 1960-62, playing both running back and linebacker.

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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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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