*The Steelers will retire Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene's No. 75 jersey when the team plays the Baltimore Ravens tonight at Heinz Field. During the week Steelers.com will bring you some Joe Greene memories from former teammates and opponents, including the latest featuring Joe Greene talking about what it all means to him.
Joe Greene held onto the jersey, looking at the front, then the back, coddling it, gently folding it, and caressing it with love, all the while a Super Bowl ring on each hand a telltale reason why that No. 75 jersey is so special to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He is beyond the man many call the greatest ever to play for the Steelers, because his contribution to the team went far beyond tackles and sacks.
Greene changed what it meant to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He changed the mindset of those who wore the black and gold, starting with his teammates in the 1970s and his impact still lasts until today.
Greene, a man who admittedly was disappointed to be drafted in the first-round by the team in 1969 when they were a losing franchise, through his play and dedication made those who were drafted after him honored to be selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It's what he brought to the team, on and off the field, being such a difference maker that gave the Steelers the desire to change their normal mode of operation. The team has retired only one jersey in their 82 year history prior to today, that being Hall of Famer Ernie Stautner's No. 70 back in 1964.
Now, 50 years later, the Steelers are retiring Mean Joe Greene's No. 75, a number that hasn't been worn since he retired from the game and will never be worn again.
"My first reaction was wow," said Greene. "I am glad I was sitting down. I got a little weak. I was floored. I said thank you. Thank you so much. I almost wanted to say are you sure? I was completely overwhelmed. I sat there quiet for a while and let it sink in. I knew about my jersey being put on the shelf, mine 32 (Franco Harris), 12 (Terry Bradshaw) and 58 (Jack Lambert) and I was comfortable with that sometimes."
Greene, the leader of the Steel Curtain defense for 13 seasons, the Hall of Fame defensive tackle who helped bring four Super Bowl championships to Pittsburgh, the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, knew when he learned the news from Steelers' Chairman Dan Rooney and President Art Rooney II that this was big, really big. *
"Because it hadn't been done in such a long time and there was no other player other than Ernie who experienced what I am about to experience, that made it more special," said Greene. "It is indeed special to have your number retired. To have it retired by the Pittsburgh Steelers, who don't do that…If you have done one in the history of your existence, it means you don't do it.
As Joe Greene's jersey retirement approaches, take a look at some more of his best moments.
"I started to think I am really blessed to be a Pittsburgh Steeler. To have Chuck (Noll) as my coach, Art (Rooney), Sr., Dan, Art II as the owners. That made it all happen; the players, the scouting department. Without the players, coach, ownership we are not talking about the retirement of my jersey. I was not alone achieving this goal. For it to happen someone has to say yes, and I am so pleased that Dan and Art would think enough of me to do that. That is saying an awful lot."
Greene remembers the last time he wore the jersey in a game. It was against the Houston Oilers on Dec. 20, 1981 in the Astrodome, a 21-20 loss. At that point he never dreamt that no one would ever wear that number again in a game.
"I could have never imaged that. I didn't think about it," said Greene. "I was sad I wasn't going to wear it again in competition. It had been in battle for 13 years and to take it off for the last time, in Houston, Texas playing the Oilers. That was a sad moment for me, a sad time. Being the last time I would wear it, I was very sad."
When Greene is introduced at Heinz Field tonight for the official retirement ceremony, he has no idea what it's going to be like. He can't even fathom the feeling that is going to come over him, a man who dedicated not just 13 years of his playing days to the team, but five as defensive line coach and nine in the scouting department. Will he be sad like when he wore it for the last time, not likely, but emotional, yes, it will be just that.
"I am restraining myself. It is emotional," said Greene, his eyes welling up a little. "Over the course of my playing days probably one of the things that I leaned on quite a bit was emotions. I played with emotions. I didn't have a dance, it was just a desire to win and that was emotional. Sometimes when you get emotional you have some tears. I know I will be emotional. I hope I can maintain my composure and if I have to talk, I can talk with some clarity.
"I don't know how I will be at the moment it happens. I have been blessed. I grew to love the organization, love the people leading this organization and it just got better. They have been a big part of my life.
"I keep coming back to the beginning. I know that it would not have happened had I not been a Pittsburgh Steeler. The organization was with me when I was transcending from a young 21, 22-year old player to a 35-year old guy who played his 13-year career in one place, and a place I didn't originally want to be because of its history. God knows best."
Greene held the jersey close to his chest, wrapped partially around his large Super Bowl ring clad hand right. And he made you realize that while on the field the "Mean" moniker might have been spot on, that off the field, that was not the case.
"The tears might come, but I wasn't one of those guys that leaned on the phony machismo," said Greene. "You play the game, you win some you lose. Hopefully you win more than you lose and you have the opportunity to play on four World Championship teams with the Pittsburgh Steelers."
Joe Greene is just the second player in franchise history to have his number retired. To celebrate, here are some special images highlighting Number 75.