By Michael K. Reynolds
What’s the big deal about Mean Joe Greene?
I think for younger Pittsburgh Steelers fans this is a perfectly understandable question. I can recall in the 1970’s when I first started watching football having no interest in hearing about old worn out football players that wore leather helmets.
No interest in hearing about Vince Lombardi. Or Jim Brown, Gale Sayers or even Joe Willie Namath. By the time I was focused on football, Broadway Joe’s knees were already fairly shot and he was a shadow of who he once was.
In truth, it wasn’t until watching the Steelers first Super Bowl victory in 1974 that I became a lifetime Pittsburgh fan. At that time, even Joe Greene was beginning to struggle with injuries that would plague the tail end of his career.
I was most enamored with Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann and Jack Lambert. They were the new talent and I was blessed to be there to observe their meteoric rise and eventual fall as age and retirement finally caught up with them.
When I was a kid, I really didn’t care that much about what went on in the trenches. When I was playing Pop Warner football I wanted to be Bradshaw, Franco, Swanny or 58. I didn’t even care what happened at the line of the scrimmage.
Which is a shame.
Because I missed much of the career of Joe Greene myself. I noticed when he got a sack or when he gave an opponent a piece of his mind, but I wasn’t sophisticated enough to really enjoy what number 75 meant for the team.
It was later as I began to dig deeper into the history, player stories and old films of those 70’s Steelers that I realized he was not just a terrific player, but he was undoubtedly the all-time Pittsburgh Steelers great.
So many of those Hall of Famers from that era were not only super tough guys, but were also incredibly talented individuals and superstars in their own right. Yet, if you asked any of them who they thought was the unquestioned leader they wouldn’t hesitate to utter the name Joe Greene.
My guess is the passing of Coach Chuck Noll had more to do with the retirement of the number 75 than anything. Some smart person decided these great players and coaches deserved to be honored and celebrated while they are still alive.
What better way to start than with the greatest of them all.
Before Joe Greene, the Steelers were one of the worst teams in NFL history. They were so bad that Joe Greene didn’t even want to play for them. He was a winner and they were perennial losers.
But he stayed, and he showed a franchise what it really meant to be excellent, tough and above all…champions.
Chuck Noll may have been the architect of Steelers greatness, but it was Joe Greene who was the foreman of the team that built the house. The one we enjoy every Sunday under the lights.
I wish I appreciated that back then as a kid. Because I would have watched the way Joe Greene played so much closer. The double teams and even triple teams he endured so his teammates would shine around him. The toughness he permanently embedded in the brand.
I would have paid better attention to how the other players admired him and followed his leadership. I would have been focused less on the flash of the team and more on the heart.
Because as fans learn through long years of supporting the Black and Gold the reality is players come and players go.
But there are a few. Just a few. who never leave the field of play. Never miss a snap of Steelers football. And who wear their jerseys forever.
That’s the big deal about Mean Joe Greene.