Andy Russell: A Steeler Odyssey by Andy Russell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This much wanted book was a HUGE disappointment! I feel really upset about it. I’ve been wanting to get this book for two years, but it’s been out of print. I saw I could get a used copy via Amazon and put in on my Wish List some time ago, but recently decided to just go ahead and buy it for myself. It was only a penny, plus shipping. I waited eagerly.
For those of you who don’t know, Andy Russell, two-time Super Bowl Champion and seven-time Pro Bowler, was one of the all time great Steeler linebackers. Maybe the first in a long line of great Steeler linebackers. Drafted in 1963 out of Missouri, he played his rookie year, served in the army for two years, came back and was able to rejoin the team, played on some terrible teams in the 1960s and then on some incredible 1970s teams before retiring midway through the decade. He was a ten time team captain. He was a great player, a great leader, and a great person. And it just so happens that as I moved to the Pittsburgh area as a very young child in 1971, I grew up loving the Steelers and I remember hearing about him, but I really don’t remember seeing him play that much. I don’t remember many of those great early ’70s teams. I guess I didn’t really start watching until the mid-70s. So I pretty much missed out on his career, even though I had heard so much about him. And therefore I’ve always wanted to learn something about him. Thus, when I found he had written a book (actually two books), I had to get it. And here it is and I just finished it.
Let me tell you what I was expecting. I was expecting to hear about his great college career at Missouri, his rookie year with the Steelers, the army years, trying to make the team again when he returned from the military, becoming a starter, playing on all those losing teams and then playing on all of those amazing winning teams and the differences between them, stuff about the players from both decades, the coaches, opposing players, maybe the fans, the city of Pittsburgh, the media, what it was like to be selected for playing in the Pro Bowl, and even year by year details on important games. That’s what I expected. That’s not what I got.
What I got was a chapter about him that touched on his college career, where he got a lot of interceptions for a very successful coach and team, where he was drafted low but made the team, went to Germany, came back and made the team again, negotiated his own contracts, terribly, suddenly fast forwarded to winning a Super Bowl and then retirement. That was pretty much his life. He kind of left a shitload of stuff out. I have no idea why.
The next chapter came as a shock. It was about a 1968 USO tour to Vietnam with four other NFL players where they arrived in Saigon on the eve of Tet and everything got blown to hell and they got shot at and they got flown around to bases surrounded by Viet Cong and had to run from helicopters into the bases, where they got mortared, where they were driven around by maniacs intent upon not being killed by VC snipers, etc. When he went, he was a conservative hawk. When he left, after seeing all the senseless carnage and deaths, he was a dove and thought maybe all of those disgusting long haired hippies were right after all. It was an interesting chapter. It would have made an excellent chapter in another book. But not this one.
The next chapter began a series of player profile chapters with his best friend, center Ray Mansfield. It was interesting and I enjoyed it, like I enjoyed all of the player profile chapters. Those were the best chapters in the book. The players profiled in the book included Mean Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Jack Ham, Rocky Bleier, Jack Lambert, Franco Harris, and coach Chuck Noll. The best one may have been on Noll, whom he respected more than just about anyone else he ever met.
After the Mansfield chapter comes another USO chapter, from the same tour, this time in Thailand with a group of American pilots. One night. A whole chapter about one night. He gets really introspective and thinks that instead of these men worshiping him and his NFL colleagues, they should be bowing down to the pilots and their colleagues, who are giving their lives daily. An interesting chapter, again, but for another book.
And then begins the most disappointing aspect to the book. Aside from the few player profile chapters, each chapter is basically about Russell and his post-retirement business partner traveling to mostly Asian and third world countries looking for investment opportunities. They hit the Middle East, where they’re basically laughed out of town by the super rich Arabs, and they finally strike it rich in Germany at the end of the book, but each chapter is about trying to do business in Japan, Singapore, Calcutta, and so on and so on. Like I give a holy shit about that! Honestly, does anyone buying this book, virtually all of whom are undoubtedly Steeler fans, give a shit about Russell’s post-retirement investment business opportunities?
There’s NOTHING about the teams and players from the 1960s, almost nothing about the teams and players from the 1970s, a little bit — just a little — about the first Super Bowl, nothing about his second Super Bowl, nothing about the fans or media, nothing about the city of Pittsburgh, virtually nothing at all about the Pro Bowls, practically nothing about opposing players, virtually nothing at all about specific seasons or even big games in his career!!! I mean, WHAT THE HELL???!!! What kind of football biography is this? What the hell does he think he is writing? How dare he? Why does he think people are even buying this damn book? What an asshole.
The only thing that saves this book from getting a one star review are the last two chapters. The next to last chapter is simply a chapter detailing information about other players he played with who he didn’t profile, including Hall of Famers like Mike Webster and John Stallworth, as well as lesser known players like JT Thomas and Mike Wagner. It was interesting to read the synopsis on each of the players and that was the type of stuff I had been waiting for throughout the whole book. The last chapter was his outlook on “today’s,” game, bearing in mind that this book was published in 1998. First, Russell states that current players, with their larger size and faster speed, could undoubtedly beat the better teams of the old days. But then he goes on to say what I’ve been saying for years. Despite their talent, they’re basically glory seeking, asshole fuckups. He doesn’t use those exact words, of course, but he bemoans the players who have to celebrate like idiots every time they make a damn tackle, saying — like me — isn’t that their job? Why are they celebrating for doing what they’re paid to do? Maybe if it was a big touchdown or something, okay, but just a simply tackle or a simple first down run? Seriously? Idiots. And they don’t know how to tackle anymore. They’ve lost their technique. They go for the big time tackle and simply miss half the time, and my wife knows I’m always screaming at players on TV to “wrap up.” For the life of me, I don’t understand why players don’t realize that the easiest way to make a sure tackle is to wrap up, but instead, these dolts, going for the big shots, lead with their heads or even their shoulders and the runners or receivers evade them or bounce off of them and keep going … because the stupid defender didn’t WRAP UP! It’s called tackling technique. And today’s players don’t have it. Russell also gets annoyed with the attention seeking players who get “injured,” lying on the field for five minutes, having to be helped or carried to the sideline, only to be back in the game three plays later. Frauds. He states that Mean Joe or Lambert would have never put up with that shit. When he was a rookie, Hall of Fame defensive lineman Earnie Stautner got a fractured hand where his the bone was sticking out through the skin of his hand and he just went to the sideline, after making two more tackles, wrapped some tape around the fracture, and went back in and played. A real man. It’s different now. Russell admits that every generation says the previous generation was better and he sounds like an old fogie, but that’s just the way he feels and I can’t help but agree with virtually everything he writes in this chapter. I despise most of today’s players and I hate the way they go nutso when they make a play or taunt their opponent after a play, etc. It’s pathetic. It’s not football. The 1970s Steelers played football. And so did Andy Russell. It’s just a shame he didn’t write about it in his book. One more thing. The publisher sucks. This is the worst excuse for a professionally edited and published book I’ve ever seen. There are so many grammatical mistakes and typos, it’s unbelievable. I can’t believe they apparently decided not to hire an editor. One example from a late chapter. Something should have “seemed” apparent, but in the book, it “seamed” apparent. Stupid mistakes like that are all over this book. And the few photos in this book are a joke! All black and white, the photos and text accompanying them bleed over each other on back to back pages, so when you’re looking at a page of two photos, you’re actually seeing four from two pages, with four paragraphs sitting on top of each other. It’s beyond unprofessional. It’s an embarrassment. As a former editing and publishing professional, I’m appalled. I’ve deleted his other book from my Amazon Wish List. If you’re a Steeler fan, don’t waste your time and money on this book. It’ll be a major disappointment. Definitely, definitely not recommended.