Joe Greene Named Best Draft Pick In Steelers History By

There is one person above all, at least on the field, who is most associated with the Pittsburgh Steelers transforming from lovable losers into a cold-blooded championship machine in the 1970s. That would be ‘Mean’ Joe Greene, drafted fourth overall in the 1969 NFL Draft. They won one game during his rookie season. They would win a lot more after that.

He was recently named the Steelers’ greatest draft pick in team history on, which is certainly no surprise. After all, he did help them win four Super Bowls and defined one of the greatest dynasties the game has ever seen.

These distinctions would ordinarily go to any excellent quarterback a team may have drafted, and the Steelers have two, and both of them are multiple-time Super Bowl champions and sure-fire Hall of Famers, including Greene’s teammate, Terry Bradshaw (drafted first overall in 1970) and the recently-retired Ben Roethlisberger, the 11th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.

But it says a lot about Greene, and about the Steelers franchise as a whole, that he for many decades has always been the Steeler, the one who served as the transformative figure. Pittsburgh had never even participated in a modern-era playoff game prior to then, despite being in existence since 1933.

Their only ‘playoff’ appearance was in 1947, when they tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for the best record in the East. They had to hold a play-in game to decide who would represent the conference in the actual championship game, with the Eagles beating the Steelers but going on to lose to the Chicago Cardinals—the organization’s only championship ever.

But the Steelers made the playoffs every year from 1972 through 1979, winning the Super Bowl four times during that span, going 14-4 in the postseason during that span under head coach Chuck Noll. To this day, no other team has won four Super Bowls in a six-year span.

And Greene was as big a part of that as anybody, a 10-time Pro Bowler, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and a six-time All-Pro. Not bad for a kid out of North Texas. He retired after the 1981 season, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

At 75 years old, he still possesses that same presence when he does make the occasional appearance. After his playing career, he did get into coaching, including for the Steelers’ defensive line from 1987 to 1991. He retired from coaching in 2004, and was named an assistant for player personnel, in which role he earned two more rings in 2005 and 2008. He retired from that role in 2013.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to his impact, however, is the fact that, upon his retirement, the Steelers shifted defensive fronts from a 4-3 to a 3-4. He is one of only two players, the other being fellow defensive lineman Ernie Stautner, to have their jersey numbers formally retired by the team. In 2019, he was named a member of the NFL’s 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.

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