The Pittsburgh Steelers retired the Hall of Fame defensive lineman’s number on Sunday night, a fitting honor for the player chairman Dan Rooney called “the anchor” of the franchise’s four Super Bowl wins during the 1970s.
Greene joins Hall of Fame lineman Ernie Stautner as the only players in team history to have their number retired. Stautner toiled in relative anonymity for a series of middling teams in 1950-63. Greene ushered in a renaissance.
Taken with the fourth overall pick of the 1969 Draft by coach Chuck Noll, the intense Greene helped usher in the first dynasty of the Super Bowl era. The Steelers won four titles in a six-year span from 1974-79 with Greene setting the tone for the “Steel Curtain Defense.”
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Greene downplayed his “Mean Joe” nickname, pointing out “whatever action I took on the field was just protection.”
Few in NFL history did it better than Greene, a five-time Pro Bowler who later served as a defensive line coach for three teams and spent nine years in the personnel department before retiring in 2013.
“My teammates probably guessed when I was going to get cracked up because they know that I am an emotional guy,” Greene said. “This is truly, truly overwhelming.”