Jan. 23, 2006
By NEIL STRASSMAN
STAR-TELEGRAM STAFF WRITER
J.M. "Jack" Russell outplayed and outlived most people he met on a football field.
Mr. Russell, a Cleburne-area native who became an All-American at Baylor University and an All-Pro in the post-World War II era of professional football, died Monday. He was 86.
Mr. Russell counted among his friends his former teammate Tom Landry, late former Dallas Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, quarterback Otto Graham and a host of Hall of Fame football players whom he competed with and against.
He was born Aug. 29, 1919, to Francis Allen Russell and Lillian Bowen Russell in Nemo, a farming community between Cleburne and Glen Rose. He was a graduate of Cleburne High School and was all-state in football. Mr. Russell also played center on the high school basketball team, did the shot put and threw the discus, said his son, James "Rusty" Russell.
"My father was a naturally strong individual who had speed to go with his size," Rusty Russell said. "He truly loved playing football and said the best thing that ever happened to him was getting a college education and meeting my mother at Baylor."
Mr. Russell was named an All-American as a junior at Baylor. He was drafted before his senior year and served in the Army Air Forces in World War II.
Mr. Russell was among the initial players in the All-America Football Conference, formed in 1944 to challenge the National Football League. He played defensive and offensive end for the New York Yankees football team from 1946 until 1949, when the leagues merged.
"I believe he averaged about 58 minutes a game," said Mr. Russell's nephew Russ Russell, a photographer and publisher of the Dallas Cowboys' in-house weekly newspaper. "He was a hero of mine, my idol when I was a kid, and he got me interested in football."
Russ Russell recalled passing regards from his uncle to Landry during a Cowboys flight to a game. Landry responded, "He could play on one of my teams any day," Russell said.
When the football leagues merged and Mr. Russell learned that his pay would be cut, he played football several years for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Canada.
"Over his career, I think he made between $12,000 and $16,000 per year, a lot of money back then," Rusty Russell said. "But he blew out his knees and turned to coaching."
Mr. Russell coached in Saskatchewan and at Baylor before going into the air-conditioning business in the Dallas area, his son said. He retired to Cleburne, where he had a ranch and hunted and fished.
His wife, the former Dorothy "Dottie" Emshoff, died last year. Survivors include Rusty Russell and two grandchildren, all of Fort Worth, and nieces and nephews, including Russ Russell of Argyle.
Memorials may be sent to Community Hospice of Texas, 1111 Summit Ave., Fort Worth, TX 76102 or Baylor University Scholarship Fund, One Baylor Place No. 97050, Waco, TX 76798.