The Legacy of Steelers Joe Greene


Mar 14, 2012; Norman, OK, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers scout Joe Greene watches the action during the Oklahoma pro day at Everest Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

What do you remember about Mean Joe Greene?  I was a child during the days of the Steel Curtain.  Players like Mean Joe Greene embody what I think of when I think of the Steelers.  I always thought it was great that he worked in the Steelers organization after he stopped playing the game.

He was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 1987 and his HOF bio says he was the Steelers’ Number 1 draft pick in 1969.  He went on to be named the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1969.  He played for 13 seasons from 1969 to 1980.  I saw the term “durable” used to describe him because he missed so few games during those seasons.  He lived and breathed football and he played all his NFL time with the Steelers.  That’s one of the reasons he will forever be one of the greats to me.

Who can forget Greene’s Coca-cola commercial?  I still smile every time I see it and I have talked to guys who grew up during the 70s and many say they would have given anything to be that kid.  Now, he’s not the only football player to do commercials and some of them are pretty classic, but Greene’s commercial has been ranked as one of the best sports commercials of all time.  It also embodies the good in people—a mean, tough football player taking the time to be nice to a young football fan.  I also appreciated Troy Polamalu homage to that commercial.

Joe Greene didn’t retire when there were tons of sports networks waiting to scoop up someone of Greene’s caliber to provide commentary.  He continued to affect the game and contribute to the Steelers organization.  The sub-title on Ed Bouchette’s article for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette says it all:  “Hall of Famer Has Been Part of Every NFL Championship.”  Wow.  Just let that sink in for a moment.  The Steelers hold the record for the most NFL championships with their 6 Lombardi trophies and Joe Greene has been part of EVERY ONE.  How awesome is that?

"Greene did not spend all his football coaching time with the Steelers.  Chuck Noll gave him his first coaching job, but when Cowher was hired he didn’t keep Greene on.  According to Bouchette: “Noll put in a good word for him with another Hall of Fame coach, and Don Shula hired him on the spot without an interview to coach his defensive line in Miami. He coached for the Dolphins (1992-95) and Arizona Cardinals (1996-2003) and worked briefly as an analyst for CBS Sports.”"

Greene’s retirement and subsequent statements have caused a little controversy.  An article quotes Greene via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

"The scary thing is that players have a one-upsmanship about money; they sign a contract and they like it until someone signs a bigger one and now they don’t like it. I don’t like that.”"

Of course Ryan Clark, who appears to have one foot out the door into retirement with his week-long “tryout” on ESPN agreed with Greene (Huh?) and was quoted:

“The culture we have now is about money,” Clark said. “The Steelers were a team that kept that away from the organization as long as possible.”

It makes sense that those kinds of things would bother a former player like Greene.  He played during the days when there weren’t huge contracts and barely any health benefits.  Players take risks to play this game and there were far less safety concerns during the 70s.  I can’t think that is the reason that Greene decided to retire, but I’m sure he has been disappointed to see that turn in the NFL.

Mean Joe Greene may have retired from the Steelers organization but he hasn’t retired from being a Steeler.  The memories of the Steel Curtain are alive and well with those of us who watched games during that era.  I hope that his retirement is a chance to educate some of the younger Steeler Nation members about the Steelers during the 1970s.  Joe Greene was on the Steelers’ roster for FOUR of the SIX Superbowls.  Think about it.  What an amazing feat.  I have such respect for Joe Greene and when I think of the Steelers he often comes to mind.  If you want to see how humble he is, read his HOF speech.  The guy is not only a great Steeler, he’s a great human being.  Players could do worse than to strive for that kind of reputation.  That’s Mean Joe Greene’s Steeler Legacy.

Mr. Greene, thank you for everything you have contributed to the Steelers organization.  Best wishes to you and your family.