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Gopher enthusiasts from Osakis have followed Pittsburgh Steeler's running back Gary Russell since 2004, when he played for the University of Minnesota. Russell and his family posed with the Osakis crew after a Gopher game. Pictured are (l to r): Joyce Russell, DJ Kraemer, Jan Hensley, Chub Hensley, Gary Russell, Neumann Olson, Neil Gillis and Joe Russell. (Contributed photo)

Pittsburgh Steeler's Gary Russell has connection to Osakis family

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When Gary Russell scored the first touchdown of the Super Bowl for the Pittsburgh Steelers, some of the loudest cheers came from an Osakis living room.

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Chub Hensley, who has many, many driving miles under his belt, and his wife, Jan, made a lifelong friendship with Russell years ago - after getting lost in Michigan.

Instead of being afraid to ask for directions to the football stadium, the Hensleys shared their confusion with another couple wearing the same Minnesota Gophers colors.

They offered to help the couple find the stadium and ended up riding together to save parking costs.

After the game, Joe and Joyce Russell met up with their grandson, Gary, a freshman running back for the Gophers, telling him he just had to meet these Osakis people. And they've been friends ever since.

Hensley is one of those true Gopher fans, heading down to Minneapolis for all the home games - often with Neumann Olson and Neil Gills - and even traveling to most of the away games with his wife, Jan.

So when Grandpa Joe called Hensley asking for help with Buddha - a nickname given to Russell as a child - Hensley knew what he had to do.

He said he called Glen Mason, head coach of the Gophers, to get permission to talk to one of his players. Offensive coordinator Mitch Browning returned the call, giving him the OK to talk to Russell, who was flunking out of college.

Hensley convinced the freshman into staying on one more year, a year in which Russell grabbed the U of M's single-season touchdown record and recorded a last-minute run against Michigan to put the Gophers in field goal range to beat the Wolverines 23-20.

Even though he was at the top of his Gopher game, academics at the U turned out to be more than Buddha could handle.

Soon Grandpa Joe again called Hensley, this time to tell him Buddha was done with school and needed to make some money for Junior College.

Hensley hired him to wash trailers at his business, Hensley Trucking, noting the young man worked hard - he washed more than 15 trailers in two days.

"Occasionally, I remind him of that," Hensley said. "He knows he doesn't want to do that again."

Yet the young man whom Hensley describes as a kind, hardworking person, struggled, and after a season of hard work, got picked up by the Steelers as a free agent.

"He's not someone who expects to be a superstar," Hensley explained. "Buddha is just thankful for the opportunity to play and after two years he's got a Super Bowl touchdown and a ring."

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The Osakis Review and the Echo Press are both owned by Forum Communications Company.

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