(Andy Russell, Jack Ham photos courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)
Talk of Fame Network
There are four members of Pittsburgh’s vaunted “Steel Curtain” defense in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but linebacker Jack Ham – who made it to Canton in 1988 – believes there should be fifth.
Andy Russell, come on down.
Russell was a Steelers’ captain who was so accomplished he was a seven-time Pro Bowler, a four-time All-Pro, a two-time Super Bowl champ and a team MVP. But he has never been a Hall-of-Fame finalist, and Ham – who joined the Steelers in 1971– would like to see that change.
In fact, when he joined the Talk of Fame Network for its latest broadcast he argued for Russell’s inclusion in the Hall … and he made a convincing case.
“Andy played during an era where he was tackling Jim Brown,” said Ham, “and then he played in an era where it was Tony Dorsett coming out of the backfield running routes … and guys like Eric Metcalf … and people like that. I will probably be discounted because I was a teammate of his, and I’m a dear friend of his. But I would not be out here talking about Andy if it wasn’t something I truly believe in.
“His technique, play in and play out … the way he played against the Oakland Raiders, who were a left-handed team and the running game went that way. He played against Hall-of-Fame players like (Dave) Casper, like Art Shell, and he was able to continue to make plays. Probably one of the biggest game of our careers was against the Raiders out in Oakland (in 1974) to go to our first Super Bowl … and they ran the ball for a total of 26 yards in the entire game.
“When you play well in the biggest games I think that’s what sets you apart from just a good player … and you become a great player. And so his technique play in and play out and the way he was able to adapt from an era of Jim Brown to an era of Tony Dorsett … that’s what has made him such an outstanding linebacker. And that’s why I’m touting him for the Hall of Fame.”
Russell was part of the 1976 Steelers, a club some believe was the best Pittsburgh team ever. But the Steelers did not reach the Super Bowl despite a nine-game winning streak to finish the season at 10-4, a remarkable run where they held eight opponents without a touchdown, threw five shutouts and allowed a total of 27 points.
“I firmly believe that was our best defense of all time,” said Ham.
And he firmly believes it was enhanced by the presence of Russell, who served as a mentor to Ham and helped make him one of the greatest outside linebackers in NFL history. Ham said he’s not sure he’d be in the Hall without Russell, but he is certain what his former teammate did for him during his career – and it was invaluable.
“It was like I was like an intern to Andy,” he said. “I learned everything. You would never think this about a linebacker (but) on the patience side, when you engage a tight end for the most part, and it’s a play coming toward you, you have to wait and disengage right at the right time to make the play where the running back is going to go inside or outside.
“A couple of times in training camp I would take the tight end and get rid of him to the inside and get pinned inside and the running back would go outside. The idea of engaging with him … all the techniques on a tight end that Andy taught me and also when you have pulling guards coming toward you and what plays they can run and can’t run against you. That’s the mental part of the game which he really taught me.
“I came from a school where linebackers at Penn State were always outstanding players. But this was the next level, and I was so fortunate. Andy Russell reminds me of a guy like (Dave) Wilcox or Chris Hanburger. Those linebackers are in the Hall of Fame right now, and that’s why I believe Andy should be part of that as well.”