It almost didn't happen, this whole retiring Joe Greene's No. 75 thing. It's not that the Steelers were reticent about making such a definitive statement about designating the greatest of their greats, or that Joe Greene isn't worthy of such an honor.
It's all about the No. 75.
"The first number I was issued in training camp in 1969 was No. 72," said Greene during a conference call with the Pittsburgh media in advance of Sunday's halftime ceremony. "I don't recall if I had requested No. 75, but No. 75 had been my number in high school and in college. And when I came to Pittsburgh, Ken Kortas had No. 75. And I think I wore No. 72 throughout the preseason and when Ken was released (before the start of the regular season), No. 75 was in my locker."
Whatever number adorned his jersey, Joe Greene set a standard and in time he became the standard. That he will be standing on the floor of Heinz Field in front of a sellout crowd on Sunday night to have his jersey officially retired by the franchise he helped elevate from doormat to dominance is appropriate. Necessary, even.
And the way Joe Greene views the whole thing simply reinforces that.
"There have been moments in the past that have kind of rivaled this: when Mr. (Dan) Rooney asked me to be his presenter at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I have enormous emotions about that. And when I was inducted into the Hall of Fame, I had great emotions about that because it was all about my life and the people I worked with and grew up with and I enjoyed victories with and endured losses with. This is pretty much the same because it's about the Steelers … I know emotions will be riding high on Sunday night."
The ceremony will take place at halftime of the Steelers-Ravens game, and the No. 75 then will become part of a permanent display at Heinz Field, undoubtedly to be viewed by thousands of fans who are certain to make it a destination. Greene was asked what he hoped those fans, and maybe even future players, would think about when visiting what's certain to become something of a shrine for Steelers Nation.
"The Pittsburgh Steelers, when we say that, that has resonance throughout the National Football League in a positive way," said Greene. "It means champions, and I hope that in the following years this organization and the teams and the coaches who become a part of the Pittsburgh Steelers can continue the legacy of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Steelers Nation. It means something. It means winning. It means championships. It means doing things the right way. It's an attitude that we could possess.
"Having been other places I was able to reflect. We had a formula and I thought that was good. That was the leadership all the way down from the ownership to the coaches (and) everyone in the locker room. There was something that we called the Steelers way, and it's hard to get and it's hard to keep. That's what I would like people to think about, to associate me (and) my number with all of the other numbers the players before them wore. You can't separate any of us. I believe it's still a special place. My hope is that it always will be a special place."
The Steelers are honoring Joe Greene because he played such a big part in making it special in the first place.