Another day, another list. A couple of days back, the league’s website posted an article listing the best defender of all time for every team in the league. Naturally, that description also included the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that happens to have a reputation for churning out a handful or two of talented defensive players over the course of the past 80-plus years.
I’m going to give you the opportunity to take a moment and think about whom Elliot Harrison might have chosen as the Steelers’ greatest defender in history, in case you happened to come across this article in some fashion that did not include reading the headline or being unable to identify the man included in the image accompanying this article.
I imagine that enough time has passed while you were reading the previous paragraph to come to the conclusion that the player named was, naturally, “Mean” Joe Greene, the single-most important player in Steelers history, and one of the players who certainly meant the most to their franchise in the history of the game. And I will never object to an opportunity to write about him.
When the Steelers drafted Greene in the first round of the 1969 NFL draft, he was instrumental in turning around a culture of losing and helped breed an environment that not only demanded, but expected success, to the point that it became routine. The perennial losers reached in the playoffs in 1972, winning in “immaculate” fashion, and by 1974 embarked on an unparalleled run that has yet to be duplicated in the NFL since.
Noting that the majority of the Steelers “Super Bowl-winning teams form the 1970s [were] defined by that side of the ball”, Harrison writes that “Greene was the centerpiece of those clubs, especially in his first seven years, before a neck injury made him only one of the best, not the best”.
He notes that Greene was an instant All-Pro in his rookie season in 1969 in spite of the fact that the Steelers were still at that time a team that nobody would care about. That team won only its opening game before losing the next 13 and drafted Terry Bradshaw first overall in 1970.
“Greene was quick, strong and could split double teams on a regular basis”, he writes. “Not to mention, he was considered the lead dog on a loaded team that won four Super Bowls in six years. Green is right in the argument for best DT ever”.
He is, after all, one of just two players whose numbers have ever been retired by the Steelers, an organization just one shy of having two dozen players in the Hall of Fame. The only other jersey officially retired in the number 70 worn by the greatest Steelers player prior to the dynasty, Ernie Stautner, fellow defensive tackle, the organization’s first Hall of Famer.
After his playing career, Greene began coaching, beginning as the team’s defensive line coach in 1987 through 1991. He remained a coach with other teams until 2004, during which he became a “special assistant” for the Steelers, as a member of the front office, for which he earned his fifth and sixth Super Bowl rings as a contributor. He officially retired from that position in 2013, yet is still active, helping to scout, for example, Javon Hargrave, the team’s third-round nose tackle this year.