On Thursday, Pittsburgh Steelers legend ‘Mean’ Joe Greene was named as the No. 14 greatest NFL player of all-time by The Athletic. Greene is the eighth former Steelers player on the list, and presumably the last addition, as the title of the accompanying feature article (by Ed Bouchette), describes him as “the greatest” Steelers player in history.
‘Mean’ Joe Greene was selected by the Steelers No. 4 overall in the 1969 NFL Draft, the day after Chuck Noll was hired to try to resurrect what had long been a sad-sack franchise. Many observers questioned the selection, as Greene was a relative unknown who played for the North Texas Mean Green. In fact, the day after the draft, the headline in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette screamed “Joe Who?”
Nor did the 6-foot-4, 275-pound defensive tackle get much respect from fans during his first training camp. In 2017, ‘Mean’ Joe told attendees at a Steelers Fantasy Camp about being heckled by a child while running gassers at his first Steelers practice.
“Go Joe Greene, No. 1 draft choice. You’re sure looking slow, Joe Greene, No. 1 draft choice,” he recalled the kid saying.
But Greene went on to capture the 1969 Defensive Rookie of the Year award, in spite of the fact that he played on a team that went 1-13. He would go on to win four Super Bowls during the 13 seasons he played for the Steelers. Five-times he was named first-team All-Pro, with three second-team awards and 10 Pro Bowl nominations in total, per Bouchette. He also won Defensive Player of the Year twice (1972, ’74) and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987. He’s one of only two players who has had his number—No. 75—retired by the Steelers, the other being Ernie Stautner (No. 70), who played his last game in 1963. He was also the co-star of one of the most famous Super Bowl commercials of all-time:
Greene Won 2 More Super Bowl Rings as a Steelers Scout
Less well remembered is that Greene has had a hand in all six of the franchise’s Super Bowl victories. As noted by Bouchette, after he retired as a player following the 1981 season, Greene served as a defensive line coach for the Steelers, Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals. Then he came back to the Steelers as a scout, winning rings following the 2005 and 2008 seasons before retiring in 2013.
All in all, his playing career spanned 181 games (172 starts), during which time he recorded 77.5 sacks.
Career highlights are immediately below:
The Other Steelers on The Athletic’s Top 100 List
As to the seven other Steelers players on The Athletic’s All-Time Top 100 list, those would be: center Dermontti Dawson at No. 99; cornerback Mel Blount at No. 71; quarterback Terry Bradshaw at No. 69, and late center Mike Webster at No. 57. “Somewhat underappreciated” linebacker Jack Ham is at No. 52, while fellow linebacker Jack Lambert at No. 37, with cornerback Rod Woodson at—what else—No. 26.
For what it’s worth, former Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed made the list (at No. 39), while recently-inducted Pro Football Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu did not.