FILE-Pittsburgh Steelers Andy Russell (34) is shown in 1975. The...

FILE-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. Credit: AP/Anonymous

PITTSBURGH — 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.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Andy Russell, who suffered a bruised shoulder...

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Andy Russell, who suffered a bruised shoulder in 17-9 win over Oakland, buttons his shirt after a treatment on Sunday, Nov. 13, 1973 in Pittsburgh. 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. Credit: AP/Harry Cabluck

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.

Steelers linebacker Andy Russell takes a break on the bench...

Steelers linebacker Andy Russell takes a break on the bench during fourth quarter action with the Baltimore Colts at Pittsburgh, Dec. 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. Credit: AP

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.

“You talk about luck,” Russell said. “If that hadn't happened, I would have played one year, got my MBA and gone into business. I just got an enormous break.”

Russell hit pause after his rookie year, missing the 1964 and 1965 seasons while completing the military commitment required as a ROTC member.

When he returned, the Steelers were still mired in the standings, winning a combined 11 games over the next three seasons, with Russell's stellar play often lost amid all the losing. He did 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's football fortunes turned when Noll came on board. The Steelers drafted Ham in 1971 and future Hall of Famer Jack Lambert in 1974, the trio forming one of the greatest linebacking groups in NFL history. Pittsburgh won its first two Super Bowls after the 1974 and 1975 seasons.

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 Oct. 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.

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.

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