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Swann: 'He was a big teddy bear off the field'

*The Steelers will retire Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene's No. 75 jersey when the team plays the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Nov. 2 at Heinz Field. During the week will bring you some Joe Greene memories from former teammates and opponents, including the latest on 'not-so-mean' Joe Greene.

*On the football field the moniker worked fine. "Mean" Joe Greene could be just that, a football player with such an intense passion for winning that he wasn't happy unless the Steelers were victorious.

But Joe Greene the man, the individual, the husband, father, grandfather, friend, he laughs when he is referred to as mean, thinking that description doesn't come close to what he is like. And when it comes to his off the field demeanor, he is 100 percent correct and his former teammates completely agree.

"Everybody knows him as Mean Joe Greene," said Hall of Famer Mel Blount. "Joe in my opinion is one of the kindest people you would ever want to meet. If he likes you, you know it. If he doesn't like you, you know it.

"I am comfortable in knowing Joe and I have bonded and have been friends for a long time. Joe and I were roommates and I tell him I spent a lot of time trying to keep him straight. He says it was the other way around. He's a fun guy."

Greene wasn't one to smile in the heat of a game, but off the field his smile was engaging. His Coca-Cola commercial, which will forever live as one of the best commercials of all-time, brought him into the hearts of fans nationwide, seeing him for the 'teddy bear' he was.

"Joe was a great teammate," said Hall of Famer Lynn Swann. "Joe was 'Mean' Joe Greene when he played football, but he was a big teddy bear off the field, at least as long as he couldn't catch you. We used to go around and play games with Joe all of the time and kind of punch him and run. When I say we, I say the wide receivers. As quick as Joe was he couldn't catch us. We would play games with Joe and then run away. Joe would complain and say one day I am going to catch you. One day he did.

As Joe Greene's jersey retirement approaches, take a look at some more of his best moments.

"That is the thing about being in a locker room or being a family. What you do when you are with your family and teammates is different than what you see on the field. When you are on the field you have to play with the intensity it takes to win. That's what Joe did. Off the field Joe was a great teammate, he was a good leader."

But there were those times off the field when Greene's intensity would come through, and in those cases it was needed. He wasn't being mean; he was being the leader that the team needed.

"He lived and gave you what you needed, by example, by the way he played the game, his intensity and love for the game," said Swann. "If Joe saw things that bothered him, whether another player wasn't giving you 100 percent, or something they could do better. Joe wasn't worried about walking over to you and telling you what he thought. Not in a bad way, certainly in a constructive way to get you moving. But that was Joe."

Fellow Hall of Famer Franco Harris valued Greene as a leader for the Steelers' in the 1970s, someone who instilled a winning attitude in the team with his positive approach.

"Joe was a great teammate and leader," said Harris. "He cared very much for the team. He cared very much about winning. You could feel that in Joe. That was contagious, that no one is above the team, that winning is the most important thing when we step on the field. Everybody knew that was Joe's mandate and one we always tried to fulfill."

And they fulfilled it whatever way Greene told them to, even if it meant buying more, yes, donuts.

"Joe had his superstitions and habits," said Swann. "He always felt like when other people created good habits you should continue them. When I was a rookie I would bring in donuts every Tuesday and that was the year we went to the Super Bowl and won. Before we left the locker room (after Super Bowl IX) Joe walked over to me and stuck that big finger in my face and said 'Swanny, this is our first Super Bowl. You keep bringing those donuts every Tuesday.' Joe was one of those guys if he found something to help the team he thought should be there every day to help make the environment right he wanted to keep it that way. He didn't want it to change."

Swann kept bringing the donuts the following season because Greene told him to. And yes, they won their second Super Bowl. 

And for that, Steelers fans should definitely say "Thanks, Mean Joe."

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