(Andy Russell photos courtesy of Pittsburgh Steelers)
Talk of Fame Network
Takeaways are a key part of defensive football, and no linebacker in NFL history was better at that critical aspect than Jack Ham, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Hall-of-Fame linebacker. So it should come as no surprise that he has a take on his former teammate, Andy Russell, and it’s a powerful one.
Ham paid a visit to the Talk of Fame Network this week to make the Hall-of-Fame case for Russell, a Pro Bowl linebacker himself before the Steelers started winning ... and after they did.
Russell went to seven Pro Bowls, won two Super Bowls and lost two of his prime seasons, 1964-65, serving in the U.S. Army. He also mentored a kid name Ham, who believes strongly that there should be a bust of Russell next to his in Canton.
“I was like an intern to Andy,’’ Ham said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “The way he adapted from the era of Jim Brown to guys like Eric Metcalf and Tony Dorsett. He reminds me of Dave Wilcox and Chris Hanburger, who are Hall of Famers.’’
Russell was a fierce force against the run in the days when fullbacks like Brown came storming at a defense and then made a smooth transition to covering and pursuing shiftier guys like Metcalf, who was a water sprite. He was dominant in both eras and a starter for the Steelers from his rookie season through arguably their three greatest defensive teams, the Steel Curtains of 1974-76.
Ham called that 1976 defense, which did not reach the Super Bowl because its offense was decimated by injuries, Pittsburgh’s best. Over the final nine games, it held eight opponents without a touchdown and pitched five shutouts. Central to its success was Russell, who captained that defense.
“He was our captain his entire career,’’ Ham said. “As the game changes you’ve got to change as well. You can’t be a dinosaur out there. Andy was able to do it.’’
According to Jack Ham, at a Hall of Fame level.
With most NFL teams shutting down until training camps open, our Hall-of-Fame hosts – Clark Judge, Rick Gosselin and Ron Borges – began a best of sound bite series in which some of the most explosive Talk of Fame Network interviews from the past year are revisited. As when Marvin Harrison ripped Terrell Owens for his Hall-of-Fame whine. Or when two refugees from the USFL who later starred in the NFL – Nate Newton and Doug Flutie – offered their views of the future under a Donald Trump presidency.
As Newton put it, “We’d be wrecked, like the USFL.’’
It was Trump who owned the New Jersey Generals and pressured his partners into shifting emphasis and going after the NFL in the fall rather than sticking to their spring league plan. In short order they went bankrupt.
The guys also discussed the historical place of Buddy Ryan, the fiery former defensive coordinator of the 1985 Chicago Bears and inventor of the "46" defense. Ryan passed away this week at 82, and we hear from his son, Bills’ head coach Rex Ryan, as well as Hall-of-Fame voter Dan Pompeii, who knew him well. In Ryan’s honor, the guys also offer their opinions on the greatest defensive coordinators from Bill Belichick to Bill Arnsparger.
You can hear the entire two-hour show on 80 radio stations across the country or on the iTunes podcast, on the TuneIn app or simply by going to the website, talkoffamenetwork.com, and clicking the microphone icon.