The AFC Championship Game on Dec. 29, 1974 was the second of that day’s television doubleheader, which only made sense since it would be played on the West Coast, in Oakland. The NFC Championship Game had the Los Angeles Rams facing the Vikings in Minnesota, a much more appropriate pick for the 1 p.m. EST slot. It was still hours before kickoff of Steelers-Raiders, but many of the players already were on site. L.C. Greenwood was stretched out on a couple of folding chairs in a hallway of Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, and he was focused on a small television set that was sitting on a shelf attached to the wall some 10 feet off the floor. Raiders guard Gene Upshaw was on the way to his own locker room and made an effort at polite conversation as he passed. “L.C., whaddya watching?”
L.C. Greenwood was matter-of-fact. “Just watching to see who we’re going to play in the Super Bowl.”
Cool. Confident. Smooth. Outwardly easy-going but intensely competitive. A big player in big games. That was L.C. Greenwood as a professional football player, as a member of The Steel Curtain, as a four-time Super Bowl champion, as a defensive lineman on the Pittsburgh Steelers All-Time Team.
But there was another L.C. Greenwood. A businessman. A family man. Community-minded. Socially aware. A friend. A Pittsburgher.
At noon on Sunday, Sept. 29, L.C. Greenwood died from what the Allegheny County Coroner reported as kidney failure. Greenwood, 67, who lived in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Point Breeze, had back surgery at UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh on Sept. 13 and had remained hospitalized.
When the nickname, the Steel Curtain, first became popular, it was meant only for the Steelers defensive line, which at the time was manned by (left to right) L.C. Greenwood, Joe Greene, Ernie Holmes, and Dwight White. That quartet dominated their opponents for years, and the Steel Curtain has been recognized as the greatest defensive line in NFL history.
Joe Greene was the first to arrive, in 1969 from North Texas State as the first draft pick Chuck Noll ever made. L.C. Greenwood came later, and with less fanfare, in the 10th round from Alabama AM&N that same year. The unit was completed in the 1971 draft when White was a No. 4b pick from East Texas State and Holmes was the No. 8c pick from Texas Southern. Greene became a full-time starter immediately, followed by Greenwood and White in 1971, and then Holmes in 1973.
First these four were teammates, then friends, and over time they became brothers, and they did what brothers do. They talked to each other, kept up with each other’s lives, grilled steaks and smoked cigars, busted each other’s chops. And through it all a brotherly love developed among them over the years.
And so it was that in 2008, after Holmes was involved in a fatal one-car accident in January and White died that June of a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the arteries of his lung) that developed following surgery on his back for a herniated disc, Greenwood talked about four being halved into two so suddenly.
“That has been and still is hard,” Greenwood told Steelers.com. “It’s pretty difficult to see my buddies, the guys I grew up with, pass. We were more like brothers than teammates. It’s tough to know they’re gone. I think about these guys often. We didn’t see each other all the time, but we saw each other and talked often enough. I go places and things make me reminisce about being there with them, or a conversation about it. It’s a terrible loss. It’s hard to realize we’re getting to that point where we aren’t going to be seeing each other. It’s hard to think about Dwight and Ernie not being around. I think about them all of the time. It’s tough.”
Now, only Joe Greene remains of the original Steel Curtain.
It wasn’t long after he was drafted that Greenwood revealed himself to have the ability to become the dominant defensive end he was through most of the 1970s. In 1971, his first year as a starter, Greenwood had five fumble recoveries. He led the Steelers in sacks for the first time in 1973 with 8.5 and followed that with a career-high 11 in 1974, both of which were 14-game seasons. In Super Bowl IX, Greenwood batted two of Fran Tarkenton’s passes, one of which was intercepted by Greene, and in Super Bowl X he sacked Roger Staubach four times, according to the NFL’s official play-by-play account of the game. When his Steelers career ended before the start of the 1982 season, he was the franchise’s all-time sack leader with 73.5. He was voted to six Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro twice.
“L.C. was one of the most beloved Steelers during the most successful period in team history, and he will be missed by the entire organization,” read a statement from Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney and Team President Art Rooney II. “He will be forever remembered for what he meant to the Steelers both on and off the field. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his entire family.”
The oldest of nine children, Greenwood was born Sept. 8, 1946, in Canton, Miss. Deciding to make Pittsburgh his home after his football career ended, Greenwood was involved in several businesses and remained active in community organizations. He was owner and president of Greenwood Enterprises, an electrical supply, coal, natural gas and construction company.
Survivors include his children, Chelsea Greenwood and Fernando Greenwood; sisters Shelly Greenwood, Annie Greenwood, Goffan Greenwood Simmons, Katie Greenwood Young and Janice Greenwood Aderhold; brothers Moses Greenwood Jr., Henry Greenwood and Michael Greenwood; and two grandchildren.