Joe Greene – Downtown Renown

Steelers’ Team Leader and Foundation of the “Steel Curtain” Defense of the 1970s

Joe Greene, Pittsburgh Steeler and iconic football star, is one of 14 highlighted Pittsburgh athletes as part of the Downtown Renown: Pittsburgh Sports Greats series showcasing stories as inspirational as they are amazing. Designed in collaboration with artist Gavin Benjamin, find all sports profiles windows currently on view in windows around the neighborhood. 

This number one draft pick of the Chuck Noll era came to define the Steelers style of play in the 1970s. Born in Temple, Texas Charles Edward “Joe” Greene attended North Texas State University. A defensive standout for the “Mean Green” team, he was a consensus All-American his senior year. The #4 draft pick in 1969, Noll insisted on signing him for the Steelers, a move disapproved of by many fans.

It didn’t take long to see why Noll wanted Greene so badly – he made an instant impact. Though the team suffered through a miserable season in 1969, Greene stood out at left tackle. Named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, he became a team leader and eventually the cornerstone of the franchise. All conference for 11 straight years, and All Pro five times, Greene had an amazing season in 1972. He registered 42 solo tackles and notched a career high 11 quarterback sacks that year, winning the first of two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards (the second came in 1974). Greene anchored the Steel Curtain with L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White, and Ernie Holmes, the toughest, stingiest defense of its time.

In 1974, Greene pioneered the technique of lining up at an angle, rather than lining up square to the line of scrimmage, disrupting opponents’ blocking schemes. This technique, when coupled with his incredible quickness off the ball, enabled Greene to wreak havoc on his opponents. The Steelers captured their first of four Super Bowls in 1975 with Greene putting on a textbook performance. Pittsburgh’s defense held the Vikings to nine first downs, 119 total offensive yards, 17 rushing yards, and no offensive scores in this first of four Super Bowl victories in six years. During Super Bowl XIV Greene cemented his legacy in pop culture history, starring in a Coca Cola commercial that portrayed him as tough, but a good guy.

Greene retired after the 1981 season, having played in an amazing 181 out of 190 possible games. He coached and worked in the front office after leaving the playing field. In 1987, Greene was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Steelers retired his number 75 jersey in 2014, one of only two players with Ernie Stautner to have that honor. With speed, size, drive, and determination Greene defined the Steelers ethos and style of play and built a winning reputation for the team that endures to this day.

Learn more about the history of baseball in Pittsburgh from the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the Heinz History Center.

This spotlight is a part of the Downtown Renown: Pittsburgh Sports Greats series. Learn more about the project, and look for all 14 sports profile windows in Downtown!

Explore all the featured athletes

Arnold PalmerBill MazeroskiCharles “Chuck” CooperDan McCoyFranco HarrisHonus WagnerJoe GreeneJohn WoodruffJosh GibsonMario LemieuxRoberto ClementeSuzie McConnell-SerioSwin CashSidney Crosby

“Joe Greene,” 2020
by Gavin Benjamin

📍 View this Pittsburgh Sports Great window installation at Triangle Building, 926 Liberty Avenue, Downtown Pittsburgh.

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