Here’s a story I’m happy to write. The Pittsburgh Steelers have decided to formally retire Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene’s #75 jersey. No Steeler has worn that number since the legendary Mean Joe, and now no Steeler will ever wear it again.
Joe Greene is the greatest and most important player in this franchise’s history, and I wrote about him a few years ago:
“Mean” Joe Greene was the Steelers’ first draft pick in 1969, the first person Chuck Noll brought to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was raw but talented. He had some very overt anger issues that led to him starting fights, playing dirty, and threatening to walk out on the hapless Steelers. But Chuck Noll molded him and taught him to turn that aggression into intensity on the field. He set a new standard of defense not only for the Steelers, but in the NFL. No one could run the ball against him. Quarterbacks couldn’t stay upright against him. He and his linemates were unblockable. He became the icon, the face of a franchise that had been meandering aimlessly through its own existence for forty years. The Steelers were built around the greatest defense football has ever seen (or will ever see). The defense was built around the front 7. The front seven was built around its line. And the defensive line was built around Joe Greene. With all due respect to Dwight White, Ernie Holmes, and LC Greenwood, there was one defensive tackle who belongs atop the list of all-time greats in this city. Joe Greene is the greatest Steeler to have ever put on the pads.
While the Steelers do technically have a number already retired in Ernie Stautner’s #70, that came in an era when the Steelers’ all time best player might have been Bill Dudley, so it’s a tough comparison to make. All due respect to Stautner, he is nowhere close to the player that any of those 70s stars were.
As of the modern era, the Steelers have about eight jersey numbers they don’t really give out (though none are officially retired): Terry Bradshaw’s #12, Franco Harris’ #32, Jerome Bettis’ #36, Mike Webster’s #52, Jack Lambert’s #58, Jack Ham’s #59, Dermontti Dawson’s #63, and Hines Ward’s #86 (so far). Mel Blount’s #47 always gets assigned in training camp and then changed, any they might not give out #1 because of Gary Anderson or maybe because it’s an awful football number.
Of all those Hall of Fame Steelers, Joe Greene is the first (perhaps only) player to have the honor of his number being officially retired. It’s very fitting, as they player who kick-started this franchise into relevance and shaped the personality we would never let go of, Mean Joe’s jersey will hang forever above us all.
You go, Joe.