Andy Russell, Steelers Linebacker, 1963-1976
First, can you let readers know what you are doing now in your post-football playing days?
I consider myself “semi” retired, but my partners think I’m “fully” retired.
Our private equity business, Laurel Mountain Partners, (run by my two superb partners, Jeff Kendall and Don Rea), operates Liberty Tire Recycling and are invested in other companies. When I’m in Pittsburgh, which is seldom (I spend a lot of time in Colorado and biking/hiking overseas), I do go to the office every day and find myself busy with charitable efforts and some business meetings.
On the Andy Russell Charitable Foundation – can you let readers know more about the foundation – when it started and it’s focus?
Our family foundation is about fiften years old and it primarily supports various children’s charities—i.e. UPMC cancer research, Boys and Girls Clubs and Economics Pa. for example.
What made you decide on this particular cause and how has it gone so far?
Economics Pa. is a very important effort to teach the children in our State “Financial Literacy”—they need to know that you can’t spend more money than you have—i.e. like our government does.
How hard was it for you to make the adjustment to post-football life, and how did you prepare yourself for this before you retired from the game?
Remember, I played NFL football in the years (the 60s) when you didn’t do it for money and all of us had to have jobs in the off season.
I used my Steeler income to pay for my MBA (1966 & ’67) and then started my own business (selling syndications for Wallstreet) and made more money in the first year (1969) than the Steelers were paying me. I continued running that company, called Russell Investments, for lack of a better name, until I retired from the game in 1976.
I would go to business meetings before practice and after practice, as I soon realized that I had to operate the company all year—not just in the offseason. In 1978 we formed Russell, Rea and Zappala, where we underwrote municipal bonds.
How did your military career help you prepare for and play in the NFL, and do you stay connected with the military still? If so, how?
I spent two years (1964 & ’65) active duty as an Army Lieutenant in Germany after my rookie year (1963). It was a great experience and I wouldn’t trade it for two more years in the NFL.
Our foundation does support various wounded soldiers charities.
How has the game changed since your playing days – and is this for the better or worse, do you think?
The game has changed dramatically since I played, primarily because of the many rule changes making it more difficult to play defense today.
The NFL didn’t like our Steeler team of 1976 (my last year) because we had five shut outs and gave up few points the rest of the games. Basically they have made it much tougher to cover receivers (we were allowed to keep our hands on them (not hold them) until the ball was in the air—today they get one bump within five yards) and it is tougher to blitz because the offensive lineman are essentially allowed to hold within the pads.
The game is also, because of the concussion issue, safer, as they do not allow blows to the head. We could definitely go to the head to stop a player. For the most part the changes are probably better but I am concerned that they will make the game too offensively oriented (not allowing defense) with scores of 58—56.
There’s a great deal of concern among former players on NFL benefits. Many players – including a number of Steelers –have had a great need for surgery/rehab/therapy due to the effects of the game, but can’t afford it under the NFL’s current benefits package. What are your thoughts on this and how can the NFL improve their support for veterans in need of help?
I think former players who have injuries from the game should be taken care of.
You were among the best linebacker corps, perhaps ever, in the NFL. How close were all of you off the field and was there one of you that was the “glue” that held the unit together? Any examples of how you as a group got along?
The three of us (Ham, Lambert and myself) had a great time playing together and supporting each other. All three of us provided the “Glue.” Of course, both of them are in the HOF and deservedly so. We have an NFL Record of 24 Pro Bowls (Lambert 9, Ham 8 and me 7) which may never be broken and I’m proud of that.
Which coaches and players were most instrumental in your development – and how?
I learned how to “play hurt” from Ernie Stautner and how to refuse to be beaten by Joe Greene.
Ham and Lambert also helped me maintain my intensity and concentration as they were both very smart players.
Coach Noll taught us all that “Success is in the Details,” and he turned the whole program around and went on to win 4 out of 6 Super Bowls—just an amazing coach.
There are so many memories on those championship teams I’m sure, but which plays/days stand out to you most personally, and why?
Winning the AFC Championship game versus the Oakland Raiders (1974) stands out as the most important win—it got us into our first Super Bowl—our offense played great and our defense stuffed the Raider’s running and passing game, giving us the confidence that we could beat the Vikings.
Do you follow the current Steelers team? If so, how do you think this team rates with those you played for?
Yes, I follow the current Steelers team and I think they are terrific. When they win 4 Super Bowls we can begin to compare them with the teams of the 70s..
If you could offer one piece of advice for rookies now, what would that be?
Pay attention to the details—i.e. memorize the opponent’s tendencies, from different formations and down and yardages. Don’t be surprised—know what to expect.
Hello to your readers!! Andy