Gold Jacket Spotlight: Russ Grimm’s path to Hall rose from dirt

Gold Jacket Spotlight Published on : 3/27/2023
RUSS GRIMM joined the University of Pittsburgh football program in 1977 as a linebacker. After his sophomore season, according to Russ, Panthers head coach Jackie Sherrill informed the linebacker he would be playing offensive line going forward. 

While Grimm was not initially pleased with Sherrill's adjustment, the position change was a catalyst to an 11-season NFL career and enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

The converted linebacker is the focus of this week's Gold Jacket Spotlight.

Russ recollected that career-changing conversation with Sherrill during his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech saying, "Jackie Sherrill called me into his office and told me that we had a lot of seniors graduating on the offensive line and he thought it would be an opportunity for me to switch over and play center.

"I told him I never had my hand in the dirt, that I'd just stay at linebacker," Russ continued. "He lifted his eyes up and looked at me and he said, 'Son, I'm not asking.' "

Perhaps Sherrill didn't feel the need to ask because, as many others noted throughout Russ' career, athleticism and intelligence were key components to his talents and supported the notion that a major change in playing position was an opportunity he could manage successfully.

"Russ Grimm is the smartest football player I’ve ever been around," Washington offensive line coach Joe Bugel said. "Nobody, 32 years in the NFL I coached, nobody made adjustments like Russ Grimm."

In an NFL Films video, JOE GIBBS, Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Washington head coach added, "He could play tackle, he could play guard. He probably could have played tight end for us. He's an athlete that also was a tough guy and was super smart."

Super smart and super good. 

During his 140-game NFL career, Russ accumulated a 79 consecutive-game streak, was selected to four Pro Bowls and was chosen as an All-Pro after four consecutive seasons.

Add four Super Bowl appearances, with three victories, to Russ' legacy as well. Notably, in Washington's three Super Bowl victories with Russ on the roster (XVII, XXII and XXVI), three different quarterbacks led the Washington offense.

"You know how you win three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks?" Ross Tucker of NBC Sports and SiriusXM Radio rhetorically asked in the video " 'The Hogs.'

"It's because you have the best offensive line, by far, in the NFL."

Not only was the offensive line that Russ and teammates like Jeff Bostic, Fred Dean, Joe Jacoby, Mark May, George Starke, Rick Walker and Donnie Warren anchored a talented group, they became a cultural phenomenon.

Bugel initially offered the "Hogs" moniker to his offensive line corps when directing movement of the position group from one area to another during practice.

The Hogs were renowned during their reign as one of the top offensive lines in the history of the NFL, and one of the benefactors of their efforts was running back John Riggins, who gained a then-record 166 yards rushing in Super Bowl XVII.

"Those offensive linemen we had were super smart," professed Gibbs.

The unity of the Hogs was well-documented and, as Russ contemplated retirement, it was that solidarity he said he would miss. 

"It's the mental part you miss," Russ explained. "The camaraderie of coming in and shooting the bull with the guys. It's just like a family. I probably spend as much time here as I do at home."

Gibbs offered of Russ, "He loves the guys being together, the fun part of it, chipping at each other."

As Russ neared the conclusion of his playing career, Richard Justice of the Washington Post wrote, "When he goes, he won't be forgotten, because few (Washington football players) have ever been more respected. He was one of the key people in some of the best offensive lines in history, the Hogs, a unit that rushed the NFL into the era of the 300-pound lineman. He was a coach on the field and such a tough, smart player that became a symbol for (Washington) in the '80s."

Athletic. Smart. Tough. And willing to put his hand in the dirt.