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In the Trenches

NFL Hall of Famer Mean Joe Greene dreams of another Super Bowl ring, but this time with the Miami Dolphins.
Edward Kiersh
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Winter 95/96

It's another 40-play morning in training camp "prison," and as the relentless Miami heat takes a toll on young players, Mean Joe Greene prowls the sidelines, barking out orders.

"Explode, explode, get off that ball faster," yells the Dolphins' defensive line coach, and arguably the greatest tackle in National Football League history. "Leverage, leverage, get under that tackle, then strike the blow. Pop, pop."

Barely able to walk, Greene's 290-pound disciples lumber back to a huddle, muttering profanities. Unlike their coach, who's driven by dreams of a Super Bowl, they're only thinking of an immediate Gatorade break. But their four-letter protests are short-lived.

"Get your asses in there, move move, low to the ball, low, low," snaps Greene's fiery voice, roaring across the field. "Use your legs, your legs, catch him, wrap him up."

The players immediately crouch into position. No one wants to mess with this legendary dude with a 'tude, the scowling and snarling Mean Joe.

The baddest of the bad when his Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowl titles between 1975 and 1980, Greene was an easily provoked street fighter with a predator's ominous eyes and an unflinching will to dominate. Quick to punch and kick opponents if it meant a win, he lived by the club's Steel Curtain creed: "Putting it all on the line all the time." This was his fire within, the unshakable mix of swagger, savvy and aggression that catapulted him to 10 Pro Bowl selections in 13 years, four Super Bowl rings, and the Hall of Fame.

"While many of today's athletes have to consult horoscopes before they play, on Sunday I was always ready to kick some ass," Greene says with a grin during a break in the Dolphins' scrimmage. "I wasn't worried about being penalized for cut blocks or head slaps; I'd get after a guy. When the Steelers were playing, it was like Jaws was in the water. Everyone else had to get the hell out of there."

At 49, Greene has lost little of his fervor for the game and success. "You must push the edge," he insists, "intensity, intensity, intensity. You've got to keep pushing to be the absolute best." He's broader and softer in the middle than when he threw his 260-pound bulk at opposing linemen (he is so sensitive about his weight that he refuses to discuss it), yet Greene is still in players' faces, chewing them out for blown tackles. As for his vaunted kicking ability, that, too, remains intact. Only these days, he vents his fury by punting clipboards.

Yet as Greene relaxes on a training camp patio, an unlit La Gloria Cubana dangling from his mouth, he also shows a more sensitive side. Handed a Cigar Aficionado photograph of ex-teammate Terry Bradshaw smoking a Griffin's, he says with a laugh, "That's my guy Terry, always with a biggie." Greene nods his head approvingly.

"I'll never forget Mr. [Art] Rooney, spoiling the both of us, giving us our first cigars," says Greene, paying reverence to the Steelers' late owner. "Mr. Rooney was constantly smoking. He was always passing them out. He gave me this big, big cigar when I signed my first contract. I still have it--it's one of those huge El Presidentes in a box. Now it sits on a shelf, one of my prized possessions."

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