Gold Jacket Spotlight: 'Agile, Mobile & Hostile' Joe Greene
And no one matter how many words anyone uses to describe a pro prospect, no assessment will encapsulate a college player as completely as BLESTO scout Jess Thompson did with two short sentences in his report touting a defensive lineman from North Texas State more than a half-century ago.
“AGILE, MOBILE & HOSTILE AS HELL,” he wrote in all caps. “He is definitely my kind of football player.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers agreed, taking the subject of that effusive praise, Joe Greene, with their first-round pick (fourth overall) in the 1969 NFL Draft.
Joe, who this week steps into the Gold Jacket Spotlight, earned All-American status as a senior in 1968. Yet outside of the southwestern U.S. and in scouting circles, his name largely was unknown, especially in Pittsburgh.
One newspaper headline after the draft read: “Who’s Joe Greene?”
“If you understand the context of the time, people expected that the Steelers probably drafted another no-name who was no-good,” Art Rooney II, now the team’s owner, told NFL Films for its episode of “A Football Life” on Joe’s career.
Fans’ cynicism was understandable. In its 36 years of existence, the franchise had reached the playoffs once, in 1947, and lost that game 21-0 to the Eagles for the right to play in the NFL Championship Game. Over the five seasons from 1964 to 1968, the Steelers posted a record of 18-49-3 and finished last in their division three times.
That lowly history soon would change with Joe as the building block of the Steelers’ dynasty of the 1970s. He immediately stepped into the starting lineup at left defensive tackle – a position he wouldn’t relinquish for 13 seasons – and totaled 9.5 sacks (an unofficial sack at the time) en route to the 1969 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Award and the first of his 10 Pro Bowl invitations.
The Steelers, however, still floundered. After winning their opener, the team lost their next 13 games. The 1970 and 1971 seasons saw marginal progress.
They finally turned the corner in 1972, reaching the playoffs with a 11-3 record. Joe turned in a spectacular season – 11 sacks and the AP’s Defensive Player of the Year Award – as the “Steel Curtain” defense finished second in the NFL for points allowed. In a pivotal late-season game against the Oilers, Joe recorded five sacks and a fumble recovery in a 9-3 victory.
A few weeks later, the Dolphins kept their perfect season going with a 21-17 victory over the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.
Joe repeated as AP Defensive Player of the Year in 1974 – he became the first player to win the award more than once – as the Steelers reached football’s summit. In Super Bowl IX, Joe intercepted a pass and led a defense that held the Vikings to 119 total yards and only 17 yards rushing, a Super Bowl record, in a 16-6 victory.
Elected as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 1987, Joe was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1970s and the NFL 100 All-Time Team. He won four Super Bowl rings as a player and two more as a member of the organization’s front office.
Said Art Rooney Jr., who for many years led the Steelers’ scouting department as the team’s personnel director, Joe Greene was “the most important guy we ever drafted.”