It was seconds after Steelers President Art Rooney II said the words, "I am honored to declare that No. 75 is officially retired," that Joe Greene took off his glasses and had to wipe away a few tears. Standing around the 20-yard line, surrounded by family, former teammates, and 63,971 screaming fans, and even current Steelers Cam Heyward and Brett Keisel and Coach Mike Tomlin, Joe Greene stood alone as the man who represents what the Pittsburgh Steelers are all about.
Greene was the leader of the Steel Curtain defense for 13 seasons, a Hall of Fame defensive tackle who helped bring four Super Bowl championships to Pittsburgh, and a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. 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.
But even Greene, who was called 'Mean Joe' in his playing days, couldn't hold back the emotion as No. 75 was retired during a halftime ceremony at Heinz Field during the Steelers 43-23 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
"I don't know if I am going to make it," Greene told the crowd about his emotions.
It's Joe Greene, though. And you knew what was going to happen, he was going to make it through just fine. Greene was all smiles by the time the ceremony came to an end, one which had Mel Blount, Franco Harris, Andy Russell, John Stallworth, and Lynn Swann all wearing No. 75 jerseys and Greene singing the praises of what being a member of this team was about then and now.
"All for one and one for all," said Greene, who gave a pregame speech in the locker room prior to kickoff. "That's how you play Steelers football."
Greene became only the second player in Steelers history to have his jersey retired, the other being No. 70 Ernie Stautner 50 years ago.
"This wouldn't be happening without my teammates, without Chuck Noll, without the ownership of the Steelers, because we wouldn't be here," said Greene. "We don't get to this point. Football is about team work. We put 11 guys out there at a time, not 12, and we wouldn't want to play with 10. Everyone is carrying their weight and everyone did for the most part. That's what it's about. You cannot stand on a pedestal alone because that is impossible."
The team unveiled an impressive display before the game of Greene and Stautner's jerseys in the FedEx Great Hall at Heinz Field, and Greene hopes when fans stop by on game day to look at it, they think good thoughts, but again, not just about him but the team.
"I want them to think that Joe Greene was a part of a fantastic football team of the 1970s that probably set the tone and tempo for history for the Pittsburgh Steelers," said Greene. "They helped create what was the most dynamic and fantastic football city and football fans in the world – The Pittsburgh Steelers."
As much as Greene made it about team, it was Greene's night. That became even more apparent in the fourth quarter, when the lights dimmed on the scoreboard and the ever-so popular defensive theme song 'Renegade' started to play. This time, there was something different. Thanks to the suggestion of a Steelers fan @MichaelDD14 on Twitter, the normal highlight video was replaced with nothing but Joe Greene highlights.
It was the perfect was to wrap a bow around what was an amazing ceremony and a fitting tribute to the man who changed Steelers football and has always remained humble about the impact he has had.
"It was something special," said Greene of the jersey retirement. "I couldn't fathom how special this is. I knew about Ernie. I knew he was the guy who put the steel in the Pittsburgh Steelers. To be mentioned in his same arena is really special."