ATLANTIC CITY – The Autograph Pavilion at the National Sports Collectors Convention was overflowing with collectors on Saturday.
Baseball Hall of Famers Frank Thomas, Randy Johnson, Mike Schmidt, Dave Winfield, Mike Piazza, Cal Ripken Jr., Reggie Jackson, Eddie Murray, Pedro Martinez and Brooks Robinson were all signing at one point or another, each sitting in front of impressive lines full of eager fans.
Mike Tyson and Hulk Hogan had two of the biggest lines of the day as each has managed to transcend their respective sports following lengthy careers into pop culture icons of sorts.
NFL legends Barry Sanders and Joe Namath were also two of the more popular signers on the fourth day of The National along with Philadelphia 76ers icon Julius Erving.
— Barry Sanders (@BarrySanders) August 6, 2016
The entire starting linebacking corps of the famed “Steel Curtain” Pittsburgh Steelers defense was all in attendance as Jack Lambert, Jack Ham and Andy Russell gave fans the chance to meet the heart of one of the best defenses the NFL has ever seen.
Russell was one of the last to sign on Saturday and “The Captain” took some time after he was done to give his thoughts on what it’s like to sit on the autograph signers’ side of the table.
Russell was drafted by the Steelers in 1963 but was then deployed to Germany for two years to fulfill his Army ROTC commitment.
He returned to play in 1966 and the rest is history.
Russell was Pittsburgh’s team captain for 10 years. He played in seven pro bowls and helped lead the team to Super Bowl titles in 1974 and 1975.
His toughness became a thing of legend.
Russell never missed a game during his high school, college or pro careers and played through countless injuries and broken bones.
Russell said he loves getting the opportunity to meet fans.
“It’s absolutely great,” Russell said. “The fans have such a gung-ho experience watching the games. The player’s experience is a little bit different – that’s a little painful sometimes.”
The Steelers have one of the most passionate fan bases of any team in any sport.
Russell saw that first-hand as he traveled the globe on NFL USO tours after his playing days.
“The Captain” met Steelers fans in places like Korea, Kawait, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Singapore among others.
“It doesn’t surprise me anymore because I flew around the world for 12 years in a row and saw them everywhere,” Russell said. “It’s not just the state of Pennsylvania. It’s an absolutely global Steelers community.”