So many fans could argue for a player that should have been inducted into the Hall Of Fame. The player in my eyes should have been Andy Russell of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Russell played 12 total seasons with the Steelers from 1963 to 1976. Two season he was deployed to Germany to serve in the Army as a Lieutenant. Those years were from 1964 to 1965. Before Russell was deployed, he was listed to the All Pro Rookie Team in 1963.
In 1966, Russell came back to the Steelers and was the starter at the right linebacker position. The Steelers finished that season with a 5-8-1 record. In 1967, they finished with a record of 4–9–1. Then in 1968, they went even lower and finished at 2-11-1. They needed a new direction and Chuck Noll was hired in 1969 as the new Pittsburgh Steelers head coach. Steelers owner Art Rooney would later credit Don Shula as the person that recommended Noll as a head coach.
When Noll arrived in Pittsburgh, Russell already a Pro Bowl linebacker and team captain, met with Noll in his office for their first meeting in 1969. Noll stated “I’ve been watching game film, and I don’t like the way you play.” “You’re too aggressive. You’re too out of control. You’re too impatient, trying to be a hero. I’m going to change the way you play. You’re going to be a lot different in your 30s than your 20s.”
To me though, Noll had to believe in Russell’s abilities. To talk to Russell and advise him that you will change the way Russell played, only showed that Noll knew Russell was able to learn and able to play at the level he would call acceptable.
Russell remain the team captain with the Steelers and new additions were made in the upcoming years. The Steelers drafted big time players like Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Terry Bradshaw, Mel Blount, and Franco Harris. However, the best drafted by the Steelers were in 1974 when drafting Jack Lambert, Mike Webster, Lynn Swann, and John Stallworth. Now, the team was rebuilding and winning.
So with the team winning and players making an impact, they seemed to grow more popular and the players that were drafted after 1969 were the ones being talked about. A couple of players don’t make the whole team and the talent was being overlooked by fans even though they were called the “Steel Curtain.” The truth is The starting eleven (linemen L. C. Greenwood, Joe Greene, Ernie Holmes (later Steve Furness), Dwight White, linebackers Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Andy Russell (later Loren Toews), defensive backs Mel Blount, J.T. Thomas, and safeties Glen Edwards (later Donnie Shell) and Mike Wagner had a collective level of talent unseen before in the NFL. With the fan base you always hear the four names Lambert, Ham, Greene, and Blount.
So in 12 seasons, what did Russell do that made him deserving of being inducted into the Hall Of Fame? The list below of his career accomplishments speaks for itself, especially if you take into consideration that he accomplished all of this while being surrounded by top notch players.
NFL Career: All Pro Rookie Team in 1963, All Pro or All Conference 7 years, 7 Pro Bowls, (the only linebacker in the NFL to play six consecutive Pro Bowls between 1971 – 1976), Chosen by the NFL Hall of Fame Selection Committee to the NFL All Pro Team of the 70’s. Steelers Team Captain for 10 years – received the Byron Whizzer White Award in 1970, Defensive MVP in 1968 and 1970, Team MVP 1971, Two Winning Super Bowls, 1974 and 1975. One of 33 players named to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 75th Anniversary All-Time Team in 2007. Representative to Players Association for 2 years, NFL USO Goodwill Tours – Italy and Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, chosen Most Outstanding Player of the USAREUR (U.S. Army Europe) Football in 1964, Served on the Board of the NFL Alumni, member of NFL’s “300 Greatest Players”, and inducted into the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame and the University of Missouri Hall of Fame. He never missed a game in his career of 186-games in the NFL, military, college or high school.
Note: During his career, he intercepted 18 passes for 238 yards and one touchdown. He also recovered 10 fumbles. Unfortunately, the NFL did not keep track of stats during Russell’s career. Russell did however point out in his book “A Steeler Odyssey”, that he had many double digit sack seasons during his early years.
Russell, has been listed as the 75th best defense player. In December 27, 1975 he set the NFL playoff record for a returned touchdown of 93 yards in a Three Rivers Stadium victory over the Baltimore Colts. Some have claimed it to be the longest football play from scrimmage in time duration.
When Ed Bouchette was asked in 2009 if Russell should be a Hall Of Famer, he stated “Russell certainly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and the late Myron Cope was extremely vocal about that. Russell no longer is among the modern candidates, and would have to be presented by the seniors committee, the way Dick LeBeau and Floyd Little were nominated this year. That can be a difficult road and there is much competition there. It’s too bad Russell did not go in early because once the flood of 1970s Steelers became eligible, I think he was overlooked. Now they’ve already put in two linebackers from the 1970s, Jack Ham and Jack Lambert, and even though Russell played in the ’60s and ’70s, that might hurt him.”
Well, I think it did hurt him and that Russell was overlooked. To me it was unfair! I had the honor of meeting Russell three times now in my life. Russell will stop and talk to you and he smiles like he knew you for a long time. When I personally think of Russell I think about the video I saw when Steelers won their first Super Bowl and coach Noll handed the ball to Russell, who was to hand out the game ball in the locker room. The ball was to be given to Joe Greene. At the last minute, he looked over and saw Mr. Rooney (The Chief) and decided to give it to him. That shows how Russell knew it meant so much to Mr. Rooney, and Russell told me “the chief was clearly the MVP of Super Bowl IX.” I told Russell that the next time I meet him I will get his autograph. I regret not purchasing it when I had the opportunity! I never got it as of yet because, like most Steelers fans you always think of the four names when talking about the 70’s Steelers. You really don’t hear about the guy that was there before their arrival that saw the bad times before the winning days. A player that was overshadowed by other players abilities. Yet he had his own abilities that kept him as a starter and team captain. Something that I thought was pretty funny that most people won’t even know, is that Russell even returned kicks in two games. He was the starting Right Linebacker at 6-2, 225 pounds for the Steelers and he was being used as a kick returner? The stats have him returning 8 returns for 109 yards averaging 13.6 yards average. Russell was an all-around talent and truly deserves to be counted as one of the elite players not only for the Steelers but for the National Football League.
I would love to see Russell be inducted into the Hall Of Fame, but since it has been so long, that probably won’t ever happen. However, the Steelers fans should make his legacy known and keep his story going so that he too is given proper credit and notoriety for his accomplishments on the field. It is not fair to think of four guys when eleven were truly on the field making the impact as well. To me it was inspiring that Noll knew Russell was a gifted person and knew he could shape him into a great linebacker, which made him become a winner! Being a winner and having the level of talent he had, makes him in my eyes an Honorary member of the HALL OF FAME!!!
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GOD BLESS- Muia