The “Mean” in Mean Joe Greene seems by now almost to be part of his given name, but other honorifics also vie for that distinction — Steelers Great Joe Greene also sounds natural to Pittsburgh ears. So does the new honor bestowed upon him.
However the name is said, it immediately conveys Steelers fans of a certain age back to the glory years when the Steel Curtain ruled the National Football League. Joe Greene was the first player selected by coach Chuck Noll. He played from 1969 until 1981, a period that saw the Steelers rise from mediocrity to Super Bowl greatness, with four championships in six years.
The 10-time Pro Bowler was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987. It seemed that no honor had escaped this legendary player, but in fact there was one. The number he wore had never been retired by the team. That omission has now been corrected.
The Steelers announced this week that No. 75 will never be worn again. Only one other player in team history has had his number retired — No. 70, Ernie Stautner, a defensive tackle — and that was in 1964. Team president Art Rooney said he wanted to retire No. 75 years ago but was worried that it would lead to retiring so many other numbers worn by other Steelers greats.
But many of the famous numbers are not issued to current players anyway — so there’s something to be said for honoring all who deserve it. Yet the policy did have the effect of making No. 75’s retirement more exclusive and special, an honor to be bestowed on Nov. 2 when the Steelers play the Baltimore Ravens at home.
No kindness is enough for Mean Joe Greene.