Football 101: No. 23, Mean Joe Greene
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His name, in fact, is not Joe. That’s not his first name. It’s not his middle name, either. Joe Greene’s full name is actually Charles Edward Greene. People began calling him Joe because of an aunt who thought he looked a lot like former heavyweight champion of the world Joe Louis. “And it kind of stuck,” Greene says.
I think it stuck because the name Charles Greene just never seemed to suit him, and I don’t think anybody had the guts to call him Chuck.
Greene tells a very funny story about when people began calling him Mean Joe. The “mean” part goes back to his days in college, at North Texas. He played some role in the team’s nickname becoming the Mean Green. People still argue about his actual role in the nickname shift, but we do know that when he got there, the team was still called the Eagles. And when he left, after dominating and becoming the first and still only All-American in North Texas history, they were called the Mean Green.
“He’s the best defensive football player in the country,” said Jack Butler, who ran the scouting combine in 1969. “Compare him to Bubba Smith? He’s quicker than Bubba. He’ll be a better football player. Compare him with Bob Lilly? He’s not a Lilly yet, but he’ll be one. He’s quicker and more agile than Lilly.
“Put it this way: There’s no better football player than Greene.”
That was when he got out of college — pretty good scouting report there.
O.J. Simpson was the first pick in that 1969 draft, by the way. Greene was the first defensive player selected. This matters because when it came time for Greene’s negotiations, he made it clear that he expected to be the defensive version of O.J. “If somebody’s going to pay O.J. Simpson $600,000,” he said, “somebody’s going to have to be paid $600,000 to stop him.”
He later clarified that he wasn’t necessarily talking about himself, he was just saying “somebody” would have to be paid $600,000 to stop O.J.
“Maybe it is me,” he clarified further.*
*O.J. Simpson faced the Steelers four times. He at times got the best of the Pittsburgh defense, once rushing for 227 yards and a touchdown in a victory and once rushing for 189 yards and a touchdown in a loss. But the one time it mattered, in the 1974 playoffs — Simpson’s only playoff game — he rushed for just 49 yards and the Steelers defense, led by Mean Joe, rolled all the way to the team’s first Super Bowl victory.
So how did he become Mean Joe?
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