In the Trenches
NFL Hall of Famer Mean Joe Greene dreams of another Super Bowl ring, but this time with the Miami Dolphins.
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Winter 95/96
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Brawling with football opponents became a constant for Greene, who concedes, "I guess I could've been really nasty in a losing situation."
Apart from his aggressive nature, the six-foot-four Greene possessed the dedication, savvy, and raging spirit every college football coach covets. An agile pass rusher able to slash through blockers, he was scouted by numerous schools before winding up at North Texas State University in 1965. Wearing green uniforms, the football squad was dubbed the Mean Green. The team was even more ferocious during Greene's years, going 23-5-1. But Greene acquired more than a reputation for flattening quarterbacks. Attending numerous Cowboys games in nearby Dallas, he discovered a hero who would serve as a model for his future style of play.
"Getting off the ball, bam, the explosive quickness and charge, that's what fascinated me about the Cowboys' Bob Lilly," marvels Greene. "This guy came at you, so quick off the snap. I tailored my whole game to be like him."
This fascination bore fruit for Greene, an All-America at North Texas in 1968. The hapless Pittsburgh Steelers, a 2-11-1 club that year, ignored the fact that he was a "little-known kid from Texas" and made him their controversial number one draft pick--the cornerstone of coach Chuck Noll's rebuilding program.
"Pittsburgh was the last place I wanted to go," says Greene, remembering an early 1969 season contract dispute that immediately soured Noll and the fans. Yet even after more fights and ejections from games, Greene was voted the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in '72 and '74, the Steelers' first hint of better things to come.
"Pittsburgh was also the best possible place I could've gone on to, for I found a coach who allowed me to grow. I was bumping against all the boundaries; the rules I went by were my own rules. There was a lot of foolishness; I'd do anything to win. I was uncontrollable," Greene says.
"Coach Noll finally asked me, 'What kind of leader do you want to be--a negative or positive one?' That did it. I began to play smarter, I wasn't always looking for the sack. Without any ultimatums, so I wouldn't rebel, Coach Noll helped me realize I could put everything on the line, to keep pushing it, without going for the knockout blow all the time."
Greene's anchoring of the defense prompted teammate Ray Mansfield to say, "Joe was like having a big brother around when the bullies were coming....He tossed them away like rag dolls." But Greene's leadership failed to lift the Steelers in 1969, '70, or '71. They went 12-30 over that span, never coming close to the playoffs, let alone a Super Bowl.
Then Terry Bradshaw, who was picked up in 1970, came into his own as quarterback. With Bradshaw passing to Lynn Swann, and the Greene-led Steel Curtain defense strangling offenses, the Steelers won four Super Bowls in six seasons.
"I'm exhilarated by coaching, but those Super Bowls, the beauty, the artistry...," says Greene with a sigh. "Enough said. Maybe I'd bitch if I hadn't been named to the Hall of Fame, but what I did, what the Steelers accomplished, all that speaks for itself."
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