“Mean Joe Greene,” one of the best defensive lineman to ever play the game of football, but dread in the hearts of his opponents. He was given the moniker “Mean Joe Greene” for his threatening style of play. In the 1960s and 1970s, Charles Edward Greene, popularly known as “Mean Joe Greene,” was an American defensive lineman in the NFL.
Mean Joe Greene’s Early Life
Temple, Texas, is the birthplace of Charles Edward Greene, born on September 24, 1946. The specifics of Greene’s family life remain obscure due to his reserved demeanor. Greene, the eldest of four children, was given the nickname “Joe” by an aunt as a child. His father was a carpenter who allegedly left the family for an unknown reason when Greene was just ten years old. To keep the family afloat, Greene’s mother worked as a housekeeper after that. After school, Greene would take care of his younger siblings, and he also carried that fatherly mentality into his collegiate and professional football careers. He worked as a laborer to help support his siblings, but he swore to find a better job one day. For him, football was the only way to get there. Greene, who grew up in Texas and was 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 275 pounds, felt football to be a natural calling. He began his playing career at Temple’s Dunbar High School but was not drafted by any of the conference’s big schools because of the Southwest Conference’s continued racial segregation.
After graduating from high school in 1965, Greene chose to attend the University of North Texas. During his time at North Texas, he was changed from linebacker to defensive tackle from his high school position. When Greene was a junior, he received some All-America recognition, and as an All-American senior in 1968, he started to be known in college football. While playing for the North Texas Eagles, Greene got his “Mean Joe” nickname; it was suggested by the North Texas sports information director’s wife, Sidney Sue Graham, that the Eagles’ defense should have a distinguishing name. To conform to the school’s green and white colors, the nickname “the Mean Green” was given to him. Greene was eventually dubbed “Mean Joe,” although he disliked the nickname. “My buddies call me ‘Joe,'” he once told a writer.
The North Texas State University football team, now known as the University of North Texas, won the Big 12 Conference championship in 1966 and the national championship in 1968 while he was on the team. During his three seasons as coach, the team went 23-15-1. The opposition gained 2,507 yards on 1,276 rushes over his 39 games as a defensive lineman for North Texas State, averaging less than two yards per carrying. Greene was unanimously selected as a senior for the 1968 All-America team. He received awards from United Press International (UPI), the Newspaper Enterprise Association, and The Sporting News, among other organizations. Rod Rust, Greene’s former college head coach, had this to say about him: “Joe’s success may be attributed to two distinct causes.
First and foremost, he possesses the capacity to make a game-changing defensive play and shift the momentum. Second, he keeps the speed necessary to flourish as a chaser.” Professional scout: “He’s a bully who likes to get his hands on people. Killer impulses are in his blood. He’s agile and aggressive.”
In his junior year, Greene married Agnes Craft, the daughter of a Dallas merchant and fellow North Texas State student. They married in Craft’s sister’s house in Dallas because they were short on cash. A former North Texas and NFL teammate of Greene’s, Chuck Beatty served as their best man.
Joe Mean Greene’s Professional Career and Fame
With multiple holes in their roster needing filling, the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers selected Greene as the first-round pick of that year’s draft. Many in the football community were surprised by the decision since they were expecting the Steelers to go with the heralded Notre Dame quarterback Terry Hanratty from Pittsburgh. As a collegiate player, new Steelers coach Chuck Noll was impressed by Greene’s potential to anchor an elite defense. Second-round draft pick Hanratty also came from the knowledgeable Noll, who was correct about Greene. Despite this, headlines proclaiming “Joe Who?” were still plastered over Pittsburgh’s media outlets.
He had an immediate impact and left an impression even though the Steelers were still some years away from their dynastic years. Ray Mansfield and Bruce VanDyke of the Pittsburgh Steelers faced Greene in practice known as “the meatgrinder.” According to Mansfield’s account, Greene “grabbed Bruce by the shoulder pads and tossed us away like we were rag dogs,” as he put it. Mansfield went on to say: “Our team was suddenly bolstered by a player who was more talented than the rest. When the school bully was after you, it was like having a big brother come to your rescue.”
In his debut season with the Steelers, Greene was ejected from multiple games because of his aggressive play. A near-superhuman performance from Greene was required before the Steelers won their first title. He then set an example for others to follow. On top of that, he also blocked a field goal attempt and wrestled the ball away from an Oilers running back after fighting his way through three blockers to get it. Thanks to Greene and the other Steel Curtain defenders, the Pittsburgh Steelers triumphed 9–3 on two more field goals. As a Hall of Fame coach and four-time unbeaten Super Bowl winner, Noll said: “Everything about it was extraordinary. After a dozen viewings, I still can’t believe it.”
The Super Bowl Fame
The Steelers’ unparalleled run of four Super Bowl championships in a six-year timeframe was primarily due to Greene’s performance. Green got NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1972 and 1974. His career included numerous All-Pro nods. His good looks and personality made Greene a natural fit for TV spots. Greene is shown accepting a postgame Coca-Cola from a young fan who is looking tired. No words are exchanged between a scowling Greene and his gulping of the entire Coke. When a threatening-looking Greene cries out, “Hey, Kid! Catch!,” the disgruntled youngster takes a step back. Then he hands him his jersey, and he bursts into tears of happiness. Suddenly, the music begins to swell, and Everything is well. According to those who know him well, this accurately portrays Mean Joe Greene’s character. As a result of the commercial’s popularity, a television movie based on the story “The Steeler and the Pittsburgh Kid” was developed for television.
While this garnered attention from other NFL teams, he was also recognized as the AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He was also a member of the Pro Bowl nine times before his illustrious career came to an end following the 1981 season. In 1981, Greene was forced to resign due to a severe back ailment, and he became an NFL defensive line coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins, and Arizona Cardinals. Joe Greene is “the best I’ve ever seen—there’ll never be another Joe Greene,” according to Noll. While Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, and John Stallworth received greater recognition, Greene captivated Pittsburgh’s blue-collar fans and changed the role of the defensive lineman in the sport. In 1987, Greene became the first wide receiver inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
For over three decades, Joe, now 75, has been in the College Football Hall of Fame and the Professional Football Hall of Fame, and he owes it all to the iconic Coke ad for keeping him in the limelight and in the hearts of the fans. Joe said in an interview, “It changed the way people perceived me personally. People would approach me on the street, not knowing I was a football player. From the commercial, they had an impression of me. My entire existence has revolved around football, “remembering his iconic coke commercials, for which he is forever grateful.