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02-04-2010, 08:27 PM
Athletes Then & Now: "Mean" Joe Greene
As the Super Bowl approaches, SI.com profiles one of the NFL's most famous defenders - Mean Joe Greene. Here's a look at the former Pittsburgh Steeler star's career, Then & Now.
Joe Greene THEN (1979)
"He's tough and mean and comes to hit people," a professional scout once claimed of Charles Edward Greene, who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers under a more fearsome moniker. And it was once very true. This was the man who threatened to stomp Dick Butkus' butt -- to his face -- and solidified his squad's intimidating "Steel Curtain" defensive line. But television viewers saw No. 75's softer side in 1979, when he enjoyed a Coke and a smile and threw his jersey to nine-year-old Tommy Okon. Greene had plenty of reasons to be happy that season as his Steelers cruised to their -- and his -- fourth Super Bowl victory. He also learned that things do go better with Coke, when his ad won a coveted Clio advertising award. The terror of Three Rivers Stadium retired in 1981 after 13 years, still seeking his fifth ring.
Greene left the Steelers but stayed with football, serving in various coaching capacities before returning to his old team in 2004. Two years later, the special assistant for player personnel watched them finally claim their fifth Bowl. Last year, during Pittsburgh's sixth ring-grab, the Coca-Cola Company saluted Greene's now-classic promo with a Coke Zero spot featuring Steeler safety Troy Polamalu. In November, Iron City was treated to a reunion of the original commercial's cast when Joe and Okon met at Heinz Field to collect the Clios they'd been awarded some 30 years earlier. (No word on whether trophies were tossed.) Although Pittsburgh won't be playing this Super Bowl Sunday -- that distinction goes to the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts -- the not-so-mean Greene will appear in a public service announcement for the American Urological Association, raising awareness for prostate cancer.
Read More: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/football/nfl/super-bowl/02/04/joe.greene.thennow/#ixzz0ecmPjm0z
02-04-2010, 08:30 PM
(From the SI vault. This is a great article and well worth your time. - mesa)
On the great Steelers teams of the 1970s, no man loomed larger--or played with more passion--than Mean Joe Greene
Roy Blount Jr.
February 15, 2006
Like Katharine Hepburn, Charles Edward (Mean Joe) Greene refuses to sign autographs. Like Bruce Lee, he kicks people. Like Winston Churchill, he cries. "I never had a desire to hurt anybody," Greene says. "I have at certain times had violent urges, but I don't think I ever have hurt anybody. Tried to a couple times, but I don't think I have. Yeah, guess I have. In high school. I was dirty then. Kick 'em. I might not've hurt 'em, though, they might've just been afraid of me.
"I do play football no holds barred. Any edge I can get, I'll take. I'd grab a face mask only in a fit of anger. Uncontrolled anger is damn near insane."
Greene once shattered three or four of Cleveland guard Bob DeMarco's teeth, and they were big teeth way back deep in the jaw. Once, Greene admits, be tried to twist the head off a fellow professional who was holding him. Yet people who spend time with him are proud to say that Joe Greene is a nice, warm, thoughtful, sensitive man--is it because deep down inside they are so relieved that he is not going to twist their heads off?
Certainly there are other men who are nice and don't get the credit for it that Greene does. He's famous; that's part of it: He's the great defensive tackle and volatile cornerstone of the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. And he has such bearing. His expression--which can be affable, droll, quirky, smoldering--tends to settle into a basic grave. He can look as grave as James Mason, but stronger, of course. His head may be as big as James Mason's chest. Art Rooney Jr. says that Greene is the only man in whose mouth one of Steelers patriarch Art Rooney's huge billy-club cigars looks normal.
No one would take Greene for a sweet/terrifying child of nature. Greene has this discerning look. When Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw tells a joke to the team, one observer notes, he looks to Greene to see if it has gone over. If it's a good joke, it probably has. With teammates or friends, though not with fans, Greene is usually comfortable to be around. He doesn't dominate a table.
But there is that big head. And hands the size of shovel blades. And there is a molten quality about Greene's limbs. He is jointed oddly and moves at once more smoothly and more floppily than other strong big men. His physical presence suggests, perhaps, that he could shift--flick--any loglike portion of himself in any direction at any moment. His college coach called him "a fort on foot." And sometimes, on the field, he goes damn near insane.
Wearing a loose T-shirt and a swimsuit, Greene sits back in a soft chair in his comfortable home in a suburb south of Dallas with his two-year-old daughter, Jo Quel, drowsing on his chest. He has an air of profoundly edgy repose. He muses, "I'm always nervous, like I got to do something, something other than what I'm doing. I don't know what it is. Except playing. When you get into that game, you haven't got time to think about what you ought to be doing. That game, that's it. I feel I've got some helluva games in me. I'm just waiting for 'em to come. That's what I keep pushing for--waiting."
Lord preserve our sense of reality if whatever consummation Greene awaits comes to him. The ground may open, and he will descend to a place more intense, where he can chase Beelzebub around, kicking at him, or a chariot may come down and bear Greene off to a better place where he can make all the tackles and also run back punts. As it is, Greene has led his team to the NFL mountaintop and has had transcendent individual moments on the field. Once he threw the other team's ball away. Once he spit on Dick Butkus in front of everybody. Once he rushed the quarterback, stole the ball from him, rumbled into the end zone with it, tossed it over his head, caught it behind his back and handed it to a cheerleader.
Greene is more than mighty, wily, fierce and quick. He is a man so daringly self-defined and outrageously responsible that it is said of him, as of very few other sports figures, "He does what he wants to out there." He plays--or, sometimes, refuses to play--the conservative, regimented, technology-ridden game of pro football as if it were a combat poem he is writing, and gets away with it; yet he fits himself well enough into the system to be the warmly accepted spearhead and bulwark of a winning organization.
Greene loves football. He quit it the first time he went out for it and was still threatening to quit it for good as late as last season. If his gifts had not been so extraordinary, he would never have gone so far in his militaristic profession, for he has never taken to what is generally considered discipline; he tended to run amok in high school ball, and when an older group of Steelers scouts, now departed, watched him play for North Texas State, they deplored his attitude. "Puts on weight, tendency to loaf," said one. "Physically this boy has all of it," said another. "Mentally he is disappointing in that he only uses his ability in spurts. Will need a heavy hand, but he can play." Where anybody was going to find a hand heavy enough, the scout did not say.
Art Rooney Jr., the Steelers' vice president in charge of scouting, was not put off by the unevenness of Greene's college play. "He was a third-down player, all right," Rooney says, "but that was the only down he had to play. He was a guy who just completely dominated guys when he wanted to."
In the end Greene was rated among the top prospects in the country, and coach Chuck Noll, going into his first draft with the Steelers, was especially high on him. When Pittsburgh made Greene its first pick in 1969, it laid the first and biggest building block of a six-year program that raised it from perennial failure. That primacy is one aspect of Greene's eminence on the team; another is the assumption among the Steelers that Greene can whip any man, if not indeed any team, when he wants to. Wanting to, though, the way Greene wants to, is not something you can turn off and on routinely.
Greene held out for a long time before signing his first Steelers contract, then showed up in camp fat and late. Center Ray Mansfield, now a 10-year veteran, recalls looking forward to teaching the presumptuous rookie some lessons with the help of guard Bruce Van Dyke, now a Packer. "After a couple of days," says Mansfield, "we wished we'd never seen him." Greene took on the offensive linemen one by one, quickly learned to deal with a couple of moves he hadn't seen and then proved too strong to be overpowered, too elusive to be hobbled and too smart to be fooled. Nobody had seen a player so quick and strong at once. He was something new, like aluminum when it first came out. Nobody wanted to fight him. The coaches wisely kept anything resembling a heavy hand off him. "Play your game, Joe," they said. Now all he had to do was make his formidability clear to opponents, to let them know: I don't have to reckon with you. You have to reckon with me.
He also had to work off the frustration, during his first three years with the Steelers, of playing on losing teams. "That's bound to make you ugly," he says. Greene's nickname derives from that of his college team, the Mean Green, but in the pros Greene has done a number of things to deserve it. In his rookie year he was ejected from two games. Once he threw his helmet so hard at a goalpost that pieces of helmet went flying. Another time, after an opposing guard hit him a good clean block, he seized the offender with one hand on each shoulder pad and kicked him flush between the legs. One day he was glaringly outplaying a good Cincinnati guard named Pat Matson, a 245-pound ball of muscle, until at last Matson developed a bad leg and began limping off the field. Greene ran over and grabbed him before he reached the sideline and tried to coax him back into play, crying, "Come on, I want you out here."
Then there was the time he spit on Butkus. The Bears were humiliating the Steelers. Butkus was blitzing at will, taking long running starts and smashing into the Pittsburgh center just as he snapped the ball, and Greene couldn't stand it any longer. The Steelers' offense was on the field, and when Butkus passed within 10 feet of the Pittsburgh bench, Greene bolted out at him, yelling challenges, and drew back and spit full in Butkus's face.
"Butkus didn't look intimidated," says Steelers defensive captain Andy Russell, "but there was Greene, obviously wanting to fight him and fully capable of it, and you could see Butkus thinking, This wouldn't be the intelligent thing to do." So Butkus turned and walked back into the security of the carnage on the field. When Russell ran into Butkus in the off-season and asked him how he could let a guy spit in his face without retaliating, Butkus said, "I was too busy making All-Pro." Greene--who was himself named All-Pro for the fourth time, and NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the second time, last season--is perhaps the only man alive who could make Butkus come off sounding rather prim.
" Joe's first year," says Russell, "I didn't see how all that emotionalism could be real. It looked like showboating. But I realize now that he's that way. And he's the only guy I know, he can be playing a great game himself, but if the team's losing, he gets into a terrible depression. It could be an exhibition game!"
The other thing that gets Greene's goat, or rather his mountain lion, is being held. When he feels dragged down by contact with blockers, he reacts, even now, in his more statesmanlike years. Houston has a young guard named Brian Goodman whom Greene credits with pertinacity--"I kick the bleep out of him, and he keeps on"--but whom he can't stand to oppose because Goodman "doesn't know how to play, he just wrestles me. I feel like I'm worthy of a better person across from me than that."
02-04-2010, 08:30 PM
Greene has a firm sense, then, of how the game ought to be played, and a willingness to take the enforcement of standards into his own hands. One time in Philadelphia during the Steelers' dark years, they were getting beat, and Greene was being held, and the referees weren't calling it; finally, before the Eagles' center could snap the ball for another play, Greene reached over, grabbed the ball and threw it into the second tier of the stands. Then he stomped off the field.
Russell remembers the moment with awe. "Everybody looked at him. He can't be doing this, we thought. We watched the ball spiral into the seats. It seemed like it took forever. The crowd was dead silent. And the players--there we were, we didn't have a ball, we didn't have a left tackle. It was like he was saying, O.K., if you won't play right, we won't play at all. Anybody else would get in trouble with the league, with the coaches; Joe did it. In a moment the crowd exploded. They loved it."
And the Steelers loved Greene. One afternoon when Dwight White, who was living with him in Pittsburgh, was discussing Greene's sprawling funkiness as a roommate, Greene smiled. "I may be rotten," he conceded, "but I pull for dudes."
To reporters, with whom he deals very well, Greene persuasively deprecates his own performances and praises, quite aptly, the work of the other defensive linemen-- White, L.C. Greenwood, Ernie Holmes--and linebackers Russell, Jack Lambert and Jack Ham, and defensive backs Mel Blount, J.T. Thomas, Mike Wagner and Glen Edwards. Only on such a strong defensive team would Greene get away with taking as many instinctive chances as he does, freelancing perhaps more than any other player in the league. But the Steelers' defense would never have developed its terrific thrust, a much greater one than that of the Pittsburgh offense, without Greene. L.C. Greenwood may be the league's fastest, slipperiest defensive lineman, and he plays his own graceful game, while Greene's intensity helps psych up the highly mobile White and the terrifying Holmes.
"He has the courage of his convictions," says Russell. "He doesn't wait and read, he just does it."
Still, Greene feels he gives up a great deal to the system. Noll insists on his defenders' meeting blocks instead of dodging them. Greene is usually double-teamed, and he has to fill certain gaps against a possible run before he can go after the quarterback. He trailed Holmes and Greenwood in sacks last year and is more likely to cause the initial derailment of a play than to make the tackle, which is the way he likes it.
"The kind of role I play is like an offensive lineman: doing a good job but not being noticed," he says with some exaggeration. "I feel sorry for myself sometimes. But as long as the end result is there, I can dig it."
A good many Steelers will tell you that Greene now runs the team. No one questions the administrative or strategic authority of Noll, a man so unemotional that when his wife excitedly greeted him after the Super Bowl victory, he held out his hand to be shaken and said, "Well, we did it." Neither does Noll question Greene's sense of fitness, which caused him to withdraw himself from a game in '73 and to walk out of a team meeting--crying, according to one account--last year. In both cases Greene was put off by what struck him as a lack of fervor among his teammates.
"In team meetings last year I felt we should stress the positive, talk about how we're going to improve," says Russell. " Joe thought we ought to be more honest and bad-mouth the negative. As it turned out, he figured his approach worked."
What Greene did last year, before the Steelers suddenly went into high gear, was criticize the Pittsburgh offense to the press, exhort his teammates in general and insult opponents on the field. Some of the Steelers found it all a bit excessive, but many of them were doubtless lifted. They knew at least that Greene wasn't posturing. "It was after the playoff game we lost to Miami in '72 that I really got to know Joe as a friend," says Blount. "He and his wife came over to the house and sat around with me and my wife, and we talked about it. And a few tears were shed. That's when I got to know Joe as a true person. A good person. A really concerned person."
On the other hand Greene is not the only man on the team. Shortly after training camp opened this summer, receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth and defensive back Jim Allen, all second-year men, were sitting together in the 19th Hole, an almost cellar-dark bar to which many Steelers repair after practice. Swann, Stallworth and Allen wanted to make the point that Greene was "no big brother or daddy" to them.
"I think he's a great player," said Stallworth, "but I think I am too."
"He'd stick out like a sore thumb without the rest of the front four," said Swann. "He gets such respect! Last year somebody clipped him, and he stomped on the guy's head. The referee ran up to him, says, 'Mr. Greene!' Not 'Mr. 75,' like he'd say to anybody else. 'Mr. Greene! I saw it,' the referee says about the clip. 'He won't do it again!'" Swann shook his head.
"I give him all kinds of trouble," added Swann about his non-big brother. "I'll yell at him, and he's so strong he might kill me. So I got him where he can't do anything."
Over at another table, a quorum of the offensive line was drinking light beer in big glasses of ice and building a pyramid out of the cans. The subject of conversation, as it often is among these men who have to face him in practice, was Greene. "He does what he wants," said guard Gerry Mullins, who was Greene's roommate on the road last year. "His hand is so big--the heel of it hits the front of your shoulder pad, and you think he's pushing you back, then his fingertips grab under the back of your pad, and he pulls you forward."
The offensive-line table reflected upon Greene as a gathering of mariners might reflect upon the sea. The Steelers' offensive line was effective last year in large part because it felt relieved, in games, to be blocking against defensive lines other than the Steelers'.
"Isn't that infuriating," asked the interviewer, "to have a guy beat you at his pleasure?"
"Infuriating?" said Mansfield, who won an NFL Blocker of the Year award last year and says there is nobody he can't handle one-on-one except Greene. "When Joe Greene stomps you, it's not infuriating. It's more like frightening. If Joe really wants to shuck a guy.... Did you ever see a dog get hold of a snake?"
Then Greene entered. He sat at a table by himself. He was wearing a misshapen, big-brimmed golf hat, and in the darkness it was hard to make out much of him except eyes and teeth, both of which flashed fitfully. Greene was in anything but a stomping mood. He looked fondly at the other Steelers. "These guys," he said of the offensive linemen, "we gave them hell. Called them sissies. Called them girls. But they did a job.
"Looking in the guys' faces," he said, "I see the happiness, I see the peace of mind, I see what winning that Super Bowl means for the first time.
"The whole. That's what's important. The whole." He glowed in the dark. He threw his empty beer can. Whango! It exploded the offensive line's carefully constructed three-foot-high pyramid of cans. Cans bounded all over the floor and the offensive line. "Time to go to supper anyway," said Greene. No one took offense.
Greene was born 28 years ago in Temple, Texas. He looks older--not aged, but just not boyish at all. He was always big for his age, and always will be. The rumor began some time ago that he was actually six years older than his official age, as if he had been found unknown in the fields somewhere and passed off by his high school as an adolescent. Art Rooney Jr. checked the records and found the rumor to be untrue. Greene was raised by his mother, who lives with him and who always called him Joe, which is a good thing, because Mean Charles Greene sounds silly.
He grew up without a father. What if he'd had one around? "Maybe it would've made me stronger in some ways in which I'm weak," he says. "Given me some stability. I often wonder. But I always knew my mother loved me. No matter how hard it was, she always took care of us. I chopped cotton some, picked cotton, but all the kids did that. When I was 12, I told myself I'd never go back in the fields. I had a burning desire to be a success at something. Not necessarily football. I don't want to get away too far from hustling money for a pair of shoes and being into everyday black situations. Times were ... I guess they were tough; I miss 'em. It's been a long time--since high school, early college days--since I've felt at ease. I feel anxieties, pressures, feel that people are going to ask me for an autograph even when they don't. Sometimes I feel good about giving autographs, when people are really nice and it means something to them. But people come up to you when you're out to dinner. 'How much you make?' Out of the clear blue! 'What you doing out this late?' 'When they gonna put you to work?' What you mean 'they'? If I'm gonna work, I'm gonna put myself to it."
Greene is bothered by fans all the more because he has a genuine dread of hurting people's feelings. They come up to him as if he's known them all their lives, and he racks his brain, thinking he ought to remember their names. But they're strangers. Then they say something like, "Wooo, you're big," and Greene wants to say, "Yeah, I'm big, runt." He says, "It's not that the comments are so bad, it's that I hear them so many times. It's hard for me to hide my emotions. I come off as being mean, ugly. Sometimes I get the feeling I am that way. I don't like what all that makes me become."
But now he is thinking back to what he was. "I never got into trouble when I was a kid, but it's strange, I got the reputation of being a bully. I didn't deserve it. Before I started playing football, I was getting my butt kicked constantly. It was always some little guy. At one point I was more round than tall. I was a bit timid, shy. Then I started playing football, and I guess that all kinda went away. I started taking my aggressions out on other people.
"But all through high school, guys would tease me. As late as my senior year some nut drew a picture of me on the board. A picture of some kind of beast. I guess they didn't know it hurt my feelings. All of a sudden one day I'd say, 'Hey,' and pop them on the side of the head."
Greene's wife, Agnes, stays in the Texas house while Joe is in Pittsburgh half the year. For that reason it might be suspected that she is a negligible figure, but in fact, though diminutive, she is smart, lively and, as Russell puts it, "very powerful."
"When I first went out with Joe in college," Agnes says, "I went to some of his homegirls, from Temple, and asked about him. They said, 'Yeah, we know him. But, girl, he is meannnnnn.' I guess I just don't bring it out in him." They got married in college and now have three kids.
02-04-2010, 08:31 PM
"In the eighth grade," recalls Greene, "I weighed 158. They didn't even give me a full uniform. I quit. The next year I weighed 203 and started getting what you might call confidence. My sophomore year I weighed 235. By my senior year I weighed 250. From my sophomore year on I was a middle linebacker, and I love that position. If there was a tackle being made somewhere, I was on it. We didn't win, though. I got a reputation for being the dirtiest ballplayer that ever came out of that area. When we were losing, I'd act the fool. I didn't do that in college, because we won. I've never acted crazy in the pros unless we were losing.
"My sophomore year in high school I got kicked out of nine games. No, I got kicked out of all of 'em. My junior year it was nine. I ran over a few officials. Sometimes intentionally.
"But I'm not a brawler. I can't imagine getting hit in the face with a fist being any fun. I was standing in a bar in Pittsburgh. A guy came in, he was fairly good-sized, he walked straight at me. I moved, assumed he didn't see me. He came back. I moved again. He bumped me. I had the feeling this guy wanted to try me. I thought, Oh, oh. I stay out of those situations. They do get into life or death, literally. I couldn't conceive of myself doing any harm to anybody fatally. But there's that old saying, Better he than me. If you do jump into something like that, it's got to be final."
Flick. Greene makes a grabbing motion from his armchair. Then he makes a throwing motion. A dead fly bounces off the wall. "Did I get him?" he says.
"It's a heck of a thing to realize you can't do anything but play football. I'm capable of other things, but that's the only thing I know now. In college they tried to get me to go to a lot of classes and things, but I kind of lost interest."
Greene has prospered. With a friend, he has started a janitorial company. He has appeared in a few quickie films--in one of them, The Bad Black Six, he picked white motorcycle hoods up over his head and threw them. He seems a bit defensive about his movie career, though he shows up well enough on the screen. Like most ballplayers, though, he has no taste for the rough give-and-take of business.
"Business is dirty. All of it I've been into ... seems like it's unethical. They call it leverage. People are always going under the table. I try to be straightforward and right."
He has trusted several agents who he feels cheated him. "When you make a lot of money fast, that's when the buzzards are thickest," he says. He is suffering currently over his estrangement from several college friends who went on to play pro ball. He had been involved with them in a firm that planned to represent other players and invest in real estate. Greene withdrew from the group. "They thought I deserted them. But we just didn't have the vehicle. We'd have wound up ripping people off too. I'm not gonna let the snake bite me if I know it's there."
Greene is settling down. "I'm more into practice and working out," he says. "I didn't used to have the patience for those things." Steelers strength coach Lou Riecke brought him a set of weights in February. "I used to just lift when Lou or Chuck was looking. When they turned their heads, I'd stop. But then some of the guys I used to throw around a little bit, I couldn't anymore. I'd have to spend too much energy doing it. I'm basically lazy."
This season Greene looks different. His upper body is more conventionally muscular, his distinctive spare tire is gone. He has a championship to defend. Does all this mean he will be even better?
"When I dream at night," he says, "I visualize techniques. Some of 'em are just ungodly. It's just cat quickness; run over a guy, hurdle him, jump six feet, put three or four moves on him so he freezes. Perfect push-and-pull on the guard, jump over the center. Another blocker, slap him aside. Block the ball when the quarterback throws it, catch it and run 99 yards. 'Cause I don't want it to be over quick! The only thing that ever matched the dreams I had was the Super Bowl."
Greene and Art Rooney seemed to enjoy the Super Bowl more than anybody. "I knew we were going all the way last year before the playoff game with Oakland, when Joe came up to me," says Rooney, the Chief. "He grabbed my hand and said, 'We're gonna get 'em.' That was an emotional moment. I never had a moment like that."
Greene comes over and greets the Chief. They chat for a moment, and then Greene moves away, saying, "Enjoy yourself now." It seems an odd thing, but a friendly thing, to say to one's owner.
"That Joe Greene," says the Chief. "He takes you. I've never seen a player lift a team like he does. I just hope he plays out his full years. He's the type of player who wouldn't want to be associated with a team that didn't play all out."
There was a time when the Chief voiced doubts about Greene. That was when the Steelers had drafted him No. 1, and he was holding out. "Who is he anyway?" the Chief grumbled. "I don't know that he's so good."
A few years later Art Jr. would gesture at the photographs of old Steelers greats--Ernie Stautner, Whizzer White, Bullet Bill Dudley--covering the walls of his father's office and say, "Someday you'll have to take all these down and throw them away and put up one of Joe Greene."
But he didn't say that when the Chief questioned how good Greene might be. " Joe Greene is as good," is what Art Jr. told his father, "as you can imagine."
And if things stay close enough to being as good as Greene can imagine, pro football may be able to hold on to him--oops, that's the wrong term--may be able to keep him around a while longer. Meanwhile, Mean Joe is nervous and waiting, and doing, one way or another, what he wants to out there.
02-04-2010, 10:56 PM
Good for him that he's doing something good for the community by saying something about prostate cancer.
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