SAD NEWS : Pittsburgh steellers have lost one of its best and active players to…

Andy Russell, a star outside linebacker who helped turn the Steelers into champions, dies at 82

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Andy Russell, the standout linebacker who was an integral part of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ evolution from perennial losers to champions, has died. He was 82.

The team confirmed Russell’s death on Saturday. There was no immediate word on the cause or place of death.

A 16th-round pick in the 1963 draft, Russell won two Super Bowls during a 12-year NFL career interrupted by a two-year stint in the military. Russell spent 10 years as a team captain and was named to the Pro Bowl seven times. 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, Jack Ham and Terry Bradshaw.

“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.”

Equal parts heady and durable, Russell and his No. 34 were one of the few bright spots on a series of Steeler teams that finished near the bottom of the league during the first portion of his career.

That changed in 1969 when Noll took over as head coach.

“(Noll) said: ‘You’re good people. You’re going to be good citizens. Unfortunately, you can’t run fast enough or jump high enough, and I’m going to have to replace most of you,’” Russell told Pittsburgh Quarterly in 2006.

Just not Russell, who became one of the cornerstones of a defense that helped the franchise win four Super Bowls during the 1970s. Russell toiled in anonymity and put together a resume that his teammates consider Hall of Fame worthy.

“It would have been easy for (Andy) to give up or be sucked into the mediocrity that he saw all around him, but he refused to do so,” wrote Ham, who played alongside Russell for six seasons. “That attitude was clear to me from my first day of training camp to Andy’s last game with the Steelers.”

Russell had 38 sacks and 18 interceptions during the regular season and added three sacks and a pick during 11 playoff games, two of which ended with the Steelers raising the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl champions.

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 never left.

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