As a freshman in high school, he moved from the New York area to St. Louis, attending Ladue High School. Having never played football in the East, he became a starter as a sophomore, playing end. In his junior and senior year, he played fullback and linebacker, earning all-state honors in his senior year. Heavily recruited by out-state universities, he selected Missouri and began a tradition of St. Louis area football players attending their home-state university under Coach Dan Devine.
After playing for the Steelers his rookie season in 1963 and just missing out on playing the Chicago Bears for the NFL Championship, Russell temporarily left the team for the Army to fulfill ROTC commitments from Missouri. He was stationed in Germany for two years, achieving the rank of second lieutenant, and serving as an aide to a three-star general. He then returned to the Steelers in 1966, where he would spend the next 11 seasons.
Coming from a business oriented family (his father was a senior executive with Monsanto Company), Russell has had great success off the field as a partner of Laurel Mountain in Pittsburgh, involved in municipal finance and investment banking.
Russell is the author of two books, A Steeler Odyssey and An Odd Steelers Journey.