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Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday …Mean Joe Greene

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Mean Joe GreeneJoe Greene in actionMean joe greene jersey retiresJoe Greene Hall of Fame

He got his nickname when the Pittsburgh fan base mistakenly assumed that the North Texas team nickname of “Mean Green” was Joe Greene’s nickname; however, it was actually Coach Rust’s wife who wanted to give a nickname to the team’s outstanding defense who laid down the description which stuck in two instances. Since green is the school’s main color, she gave the defense the name “Mean Green”.

 

In 1969, he was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the fourth pick of the NFL draft and spent his entire career with them until his retirement in 1981. When Greene was drafted, a newspaper headline asked, Who’s Joe Greene? The question was quickly answered as Greene became so good that teams double-teamed, and even triple-teamed, him throughout his entire career. In addition to his skills, other teams saw Greene as a threat because of his size.

After he was drafted, Greene quickly established himself as a dominant defensive player. He was strong, quick and intense. He was the NFL’s Rookie of the Year in 1969, even though he played on a Steelers team that went 1-13 in Chuck Noll‘s first year as its head coach. The Steelers quickly improved over the next few seasons. Greene later admitted that he was upset with being drafted by the Steelers due to their long history of losing. He often showed his displeasure on the field, including an incident during a game with the Chicago Bears in which he spat in the face of Dick Butkus and challenged Butkus, long considered to have been the NFL’s meanest player, to a fight.

In his early years with the Steelers, Greene was at times uncontrollable, and often let his temper get the best of him. On one occasion during a 1975 game against the rival Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in which the Steelers won 42-6, Greene repeatedly kicked Browns lineman Bob McKay in the groin while McKay was lying on the ground. Another incident had Greene snap the ball away from the center while the opposing team was lining up for a play. He had no tolerance for losing, and the team veterans quickly took notice. His intense desire to win rallied the veterans around him, and with great drafts as well as superb coaching, the Steelers franchise soon began to undergo a dramatic makeover. Joe Greene was credited as the cornerstone of the great Steelers dynasty and the most important player in Steeler’s history.

Greene was the leader and the anchor of the “Steel Curtain” defense that won four Super Bowls in the 1970s[citation needed]. He was recognized as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in both 1972 and 1974. He, along with other members of the Steelers’ front four (L. C. Greenwood, Dwight White and Ernie Holmes) even appeared on the cover of Timemagazine. In Super Bowl IX, Greene became the first player ever to record an interception, a forced fumble, and fumble recovery in a single Super Bowl. He went to the Pro Bowl10 times during his career.

Greene is also well known for the “stunt 4-3” defense, in which he would line up at an angle, between the center and guard, and would explode into the line taking up 2-3 blockers. He started doing this sometime in the 1974 season, and while it cut down on the number of sacks he racked up, it freed up his other defensive teammates like middle linebacker Jack Lambert to make tackles with ease[citation needed].

After leading the Steelers to another Super Bowl win after the 1975 season over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl X, Greene missed the first several games of the 1976 seasonwith a back injury. The Steelers started off the season 1-4 and looked like they would not make the playoffs. Quarterback Terry Bradshaw was also injured and was replaced by rookie Mike Kruczek. The season looked lost. But Greene and the Steelers defense carried the Steelers to nine straight wins and the playoffs. With a defense considered one of the best in NFL history, the 1976 Steelers held opponents to an average of less than 10 points per game (138 points over 14 games). During their nine-game winning streak, the Steelers defense recorded five shutouts, another modern record, and gave up a total of just 28 points (roughly 3 points per game). The defense allowed only two touchdowns over nine games.

Ten of the eleven starters on that 1976 Steelers team were players who made the Pro Bowl at least once in their career (eight starters made the Pro Bowl after the 1976 season). Middle linebacker Jack Lambert along with Greene, became the emotional leaders of the defensive squad. Greene continued to perform at an all-pro level, becoming a 5-time All-Pro (1972–74, 77, 79) and in 1969 receiving the first of his 10 Pro Bowl invitations. Greene retired after the 1981 season after 13 years in the league.

His spot in the lineup was technically not replaced; the Steelers switched to a 3-4 defensive alignment for the 1982 season, which has only one nose tackle as opposed to two defensive tackles, giving the extra spot to a second middle linebacker. The team has used the 3-4 as its base alignment continuously in the years since Greene’s retirement.

His end stats were 181 games, 78.5 sacks (unofficially, as sacks were not an official statistic until 1982) and 16 fumble recoveries. Joe Greene had 190 tackles in 1978.

Smallthoughts:Old School Tuesday salutes Mean Joe Greene.

Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Games 181
Interceptions 1
Stats at NFL.com
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2 Comments

  1. He was a beast on the field but was made to look like a gentle giant in those Coke commercials. Remember?

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