Joe Greene remembers the day he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. For many players today, that is a glorious moment. But for him, back in 1969, it was anything but. The Steelers were a franchise that had struggled up until that point and he admittedly was hoping to go to the Dallas Cowboys.
"I got a letter this week from an old teammate of mine," said Greene. "He refreshed my memory about not being happy when I came to Pittsburgh. And I wasn't. The history wasn't good there then. I wasn't looking forward to it. I have been a sports fan all of my life. I was a fan of the game. And when I got drafted by Pittsburgh I was crushed. I didn't know any better. How was I to know the future was going to bring four World Champions, the teammates I played with, and what we established? We had a great sense of self, teamwork and community. I landed in the greatest sports town in the country.
"But thanks to The Chief (Art Rooney Sr), Dan (Rooney) and Chuck Noll they gave me a chance."
It didn't take long for Greene to be the cornerstone of changing the football culture in Pittsburgh as the losing stopped and four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s followed. And Greene's contribution to the team continues today as a member of the player personnel department, helping to bring two more Super Bowl championships to the organization.
And it's because of that long-time commitment to the Steelers that Greene was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 75th Annual Dapper Dan Dinner & Sports Auction at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
"He always talked about team first," said Franco Harris, Greene's former teammate who introduced him at the dinner. "Winning, winning, that was Joe. His stats, what he did, it was all about team. This guy loved to win and hated to lose. That set the tone.
"A lifetime achievement award does not mean things are over. It's about the lifetime of memories you have given to Pittsburgh Steelers fans and the lifetime impact you had on your fellow teammates and your style of play. Also the standard you set. That standard is set, as Mike Tomlin refers to it today, he is referring back to this guy. You have given all of us a lifetime filled beyond our wildest dreams. You saw the history before Joe Greene and the history after Joe Greene. He has shown all of us, the city included how to achieve."
Other former teammates raved about Greene's leadership and joked that his "Mean" moniker was just a nickname, not the person Greene was.
"He is a guy who showed us how to win with dignity," said former wide receiver John Stallworth. "He showed us how to be humble and appreciate other players and the history of the game. That is the guy I know. He was a great player, a great human being. He was a great leader, a great player and I am proud to have played with him for so many years."
Greene also joked about not being mean, even though teammate L.C. Greenwood said he was the "nastiest" football player ever, but did say he had a bit of a temper early on.
"What I learned from all of my teammates and that short fuse they told me I had, I started to gain patience," said Greene. "The attitudes I had getting kicked out of ball games. When I came here they called me Mean Joe. I didn't think that was so. I protested. Then I went to New York and got kicked out of the ball game and I couldn't get rid of it."
Greene is in good company winning the Lifetime Achievement Award, as past winners of the award include Dan Rooney, Dick LeBeau, Joe Paterno and Arnold Palmer.
"Those are fine, outstanding people," said Greene. "For me to think of myself being in that company I am just overwhelmed. As a sports person our desires are to play on a good team, have a good time, win championships and have the fans love you. I tell you I do feel loved."