Legends Spotlight: Joe Greene
Joe 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, with his impact still lasting today.
Greene became only the second player in Steelers’ history to have his jersey retired when the team did so in 2014. It was well deserved for the Hall of Famer who led the Steel Curtain defense for 13 seasons, won four Super Bowls, and was a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Greene was selected to the Pro Bowl 10 times, including eight straight years from 1969-76. He was a five-time first-team All-Pro selection, 11-time first-team All-AFC selection, NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice (1972 and 1974) and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1969. He was named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, the 1970s All-Decade Team and the Steelers 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.
But it all started out with Greene not even wanting to play for the Steelers.
“Who told you I didn’t want to play for Pittsburgh?” joked Greene. “Did I do that?”
Well, yes, he said it when he was selected by the team in the first round of the 1969 NFL Draft at a time when the Steelers weren’t what they are today.
“I said that, but I was young, and I was looking at the Steelers history,” said Greene. “The two preceding years before I was drafted Pittsburgh had only won four games. Obviously it would have been a gigantic mistake for me to not be a Pittsburgh Steeler, having the opportunity to work for an outstanding organization, the Rooneys and to be coached by Chuck Noll and be joined by obviously some fantastic players. We had great camaraderie, and we had a great time playing football for Pittsburgh. We had a great locker room and we practiced hard because we had a coach who wouldn’t settle for anything less. Over time we found out that was the best way if we wanted to get to that Super Bowl.
“My very, very first day as a Steeler, in training camp, Chuck said our goal is to win a Super Bowl and there were some chuckles going on in that room. A couple of them were cut because of it. He wasn’t talking about that season. But every year the goal is to win and ultimately we got there.”
Greene also weighed in on a variety of other topics in this exclusive interview.
The teams you plays on in the 1970s had incredible success. What it talent, chemistry, or a combination of the two that led to that success?
“It was a combination of those things. I came here the same year that L.C. Greenwood did, a year later we got Mel Blount, then ‘The Blonde Bomber’ (Terry Bradshaw), and Jack Ham, he joined us. Later on Franco (Harris) did, then Dwight (White) and Ernie Holmes. The year that (John) Stallworth and (Lynn) Swann came they brought along Jack Lambert and (Mike) Webster. It was perfect, it was perfect. I was the oldest of all of them, but not by much. We kind of grew up together. We learned the Chuck Noll way together.”
Who had the biggest impact on your playing career?**
“We all wanted to win very badly, and I’m talking about after we became competitive in 1972, 1973. In 1974 that was supposed to be the year for us and I became very despondent the later part of that year. I was walking out and as I was leaving and walking past some of the coaches offices in the back of my mind I was saying, ‘Someone stop me from this.’ It was in my head that I had to leave for whatever reason because I was unhappy. I got in my car and Lionel Taylor came and he sat down and he started talking to me. I can’t remember anything he said, all I said was I was sure glad he’d shown up. I don’t know what impact that had on the rest of the season, but it did make me feel a lot better about what we were trying to do. We had two games left. We ended up going to New England and winning that game and we came back and we played Cincinnati here, Paul Brown’s last game as a coach. We won that pretty handily.
“We got to face the Buffalo Bills with the incomparable O.J. Simpson. They had put a lot of yards on us early and we had put in a lot of time and effort trying to stop him. Then we went to the Raiders and everyone knows about the speech that Chuck (Noll) made. The game was won on Tuesday or Wednesday in the locker room, the meeting room. It changed from there. I don’t know what impact it had on the team but it had a great impact on me because it cleared my mind of the negative things that were going on in my head. Not what we should be doing or what we are doing. Let’s just do it.”
What was that speech that Chuck Noll gave?
“It was a full team meeting and Chuck was in front of the group. That was a fantastic game played the previous Sunday. The day after we beat Buffalo to go to the AFC Championship, and the Dolphins were playing the Raiders and they were positioning to win 23 in a row and the Raiders were in that ball game. It was a fantastic game and in Coach (John) Madden’s exuberance said the two best teams in football played today, that this was the Super Bowl. Then in our meeting Chuck said, well, fellas, the Super Bowl wasn’t played yesterday, it’s going to be played in two weeks and the best team in football is sitting right here in this room. It just kind of levitated us out of our seat and everybody let up a big whoop and it was a done deal.”
Do you still enjoy watching the games?
“Not as much, not as much. I don’t understand some aspects of it. I don’t understand what makes a guy do a dance after they make a tackle. Make a tackle 15 yards downfield, and you celebrate. What’s to celebrate? Someone needs to tell me that and explain it in a way that it makes sense. Football for me was the thrill of the hunt. We were hunting each other. I’m hunting you and you’re hunting me. And in doing so we’re playing the game of our lives, but what happens? I play my best, they play their best, and we give a great contest. That’s football to me, as it should be.”