I've been lucky in my time as a Backroads leader to have some amazing guests with amazing stories. Late last year I was fortunate enough to meet Andy Russell. If that name rings a bell, it's because Andy was an NFL star in the 1960s and '70s.
It was day three of our Sicily biking trip and Andy and I were riding along a gorgeous stretch of road. Something shiny coming from Andy's handlebars caught my eye, so I took a look: a ring. It looked like a Super Bowl ring. I had to ask.... Andy, who hadn't mentioned anything up to this point, grinned a little grin and told me his story, and what a story it was!
Andy, you had a decorated career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and won many accolades. Which holds dearest to you?
Just making the team my rookie year because our coach, Buddy Parker, hated rookies. I remember hearing my name read out and thinking of all the sacrifices I had made.
You won two Super Bowls with the Steelers. Does one stand out above the other?
Super Bowl IX, our first, was the most precious because the first one is the hardest. You're not sure you can do it and, until that final second has counted down off the game clock, you have those doubts. Once you've achieved it though, well that's a feeling I will never forget.
What keeps you busy these days?
I work out five days a week. I normally do 40 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of weight lifting. I like staying in shape and think it's an important part of everyone's life.
You've been out of the game a long time now. How else do you stay fit?
I do a lot of hiking and climbing in Colorado. Both winter and summer, Colorado lends itself to all of these kinds of activities and the scenery in the area gives a great backdrop to any adventure.
You've been on a few Backroads trips now. What initially made you and your family choose an active vacation and, in particular, Backroads?
We love to challenge ourselves and Backroads is the best! Everything is well organized and goes off without a hitch. The hotels and restaurants are terrific; you just know that Backroads will find the right place. As for the leaders, well, all I can say is that they are the best.
Which trip has been your favorite so far?
The Dolomites of Italy. It's a stunning place with amazing scenery. The feeling you get as you ride through the rolling hills there is unexplainable.
You normally travel in a big group on a private trip. Is a lot of the joy you get from traveling in doing it with friends?
Yes, we greatly enjoy our friends from St. Louis, Missouri. We have a fantastic time with them on every trip we do and it makes for great memories. We may not see some of them in between Backroads trips but when we do it's like we saw them just yesterday.
Andy Russell and friends on a Backroads Private Trip in Sicily
Do you have a dream destination?
Oh yes, I would love to get down to Patagonia at some stage. It looks like an amazing place full of wonder. I have seen it before in documentaries and such and it is definitely on my to-do list!
What interaction do you have with the NFL now?
I just got off the Steelers Cruise and it was great to reconnect with so many of our fans--1,800 of them! They're so committed to the team and being able to be among them and tell some old "war" stories is something that I really treasure.
Do you still get a tingle when playoff season is around?
Yes, I love the game. I love how when I watch, I can feel what it was like to be out there.
The game has evolved since you played. What are the main differences you're noticing in the game these days as opposed to when you played?
The game today is much safer than when I played--we were allowed to go to the head and the knees--both penalties and major fines today.
Do you ever have dreams or flashbacks of being on the field in front of the crowd?
Yes. I have lots of great memories, which, when I think about them, can take me back to the time and place where it happened. When I get asked about the Super Bowls and start talking about those kinds of occasions it sends a tingle up my spine.
Anything else you want to add, mate?
A massive thanks goes out to Andy for talking with us here at The BackBeat!