Mean Joe Greene was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987, the first member of the Super Steelers of the 1970s to be inducted. The menacing defensive lineman was a two-time NFL defensive player of the year award winner and a 10-time Pro Bowler.
But when it comes to his legacy with the Steelers, Greene wants to be remembered in only one way.
"I was just someone who wanted to win," Greene said.
Now a special assistant with the Steelers, Greene will be honored with the Dapper Dan Lifetime Achievement Award at the charity's Dinner & Sports Auction. The award previously has gone to Arnold Palmer, Joe Paterno, Dick LeBeau and Bruno Sammartino.
Greene's teammates recall his legendary leadership abilities and his desire to win. When he wasn't sacking quarterbacks or landing bone-jarring tackles on running backs, Greene was someone his teammates looked to for guidance.
"I think one of Joe's biggest assets was his leadership," said former Steelers defensive end L.C. Greenwood, who played alongside Greene for 13 years. "He had a desire to win. When Joe came to Pittsburgh, that was his makeup. That's all he ever wanted to do in the game of football. I think that was part of his reluctance to come here in the beginning because the Steelers hadn't won a lot. Joe's entire makeup was about winning."
"He just hated to lose," added former linebacker Andy Russell, who joined the Steelers in 1963. "He would become very agitated and very angry, and he fought like a fanatic. He was an inspiration to all of the older guys when he came in. He absolutely changed the culture. We had become accustomed to losing. We had meetings about why we were losing. We were trying to figure it out. Joe just refused to accept it."
Greene's winning attitude permeated the organization. The Steelers went from league laughingstock to four-time Super Bowl champions with Greene as a centerpiece of the defense. The Steelers won four Super Bowls in a six-year span from 1975-80, but Greene almost did not participate in the first, Super Bowl IX, against the Minnesota Vikings.
"In 1974, we had to play the Oilers in Pittsburgh," Russell recalled. "It was the third-to-last game of the year. If we won, we got in the playoffs. We played a pretty good defensive game. We gave up  points. Joe was so upset with our offense that they couldn't score enough points to beat a Houston team that wasn't very highly ranked at the time. After the game he said, 'I'm leaving. I'm going home to Texas.' He was dead serious. ... A couple of us had to talk him out of it."
Greene, the club's first-round draft pick in '69, remembers that.
"I was very disgusted," he said. "... I didn't feel good about us at all. I had packed up a couple of things from my locker and was walking to my car. I passed by the coaches' offices. [Receivers coach] Lionel Taylor saw me. Part of me was saying I just have to get out of here, but another part of me was looking to get talked out of it. Lionel came out and said, 'What's going on?' I told him what I was thinking. He said, 'Well, you're not a quitter, so get back in the locker room.' So that's what I did.
"The next week we found ourselves. We went to New England and won the division championship. Then we beat Cincinnati and then came the playoff games."
After beating Cincinnati in the regular-season finale, the Steelers beat O.J. Simpson and the Buffalo Bills in the first playoff game. In the AFC championship game, the Steelers traveled to Oakland and won to advance to the first Super Bowl in franchise history.
In Super Bowl IX, the Steelers defeated the Vikings, 16-6. The defense led the way as they held the Vikings to 119 total yards.
Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert was the emotional leader of the defense; Greene led in a different way. His teammates didn't have to hear him speak; they needed only to look into his eyes.
"He was a silent leader. ... He would communicate with his eyes. You could tell he was in charge," former Steelers safety Mike Wagner said. " ... Joe was a gentle giant. Jack Lambert was the one who would be screaming and pointing his finger. Joe was quieter, but he would get this look in his eye. When he got that look, all of the players would perk up."
Greene credits the Steelers organization and Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll for a lot of his success. When he was getting into fights and getting thrown out of games as a rookie, other organizations might have become tired of such antics, Greene said.
"The Rooneys and Chuck were able to see around my rough edges," Greene said. "... There aren't too many days that go by when I don't think about Chuck and the effect he had on me. He corralled all of those emotions in me and channeled it into a positive direction."
Once Greene and the Steelers got rolling, they were hard to stop. The team had its first winning season in eight years in 1972 and did not experience another losing season until after Greene retired.
Greene, who works in scouting for the team, is tickled with the success of the current Steelers.
"I would call it Steeler tradition," he said. "... There is an attitude there. It goes back to Chuck, who said 'Refuse to be denied.' I see that in this group as well."
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com or 412-263-1230.