Greene is bothered by fans all the more because he has a genuine dread of hurting people's feelings. They come up to him as if he's known them all their lives, and he racks his brain, thinking he ought to remember their names. But they're strangers. Then they say something like, "Wooo, you're big," and Greene wants to say, "Yeah, I'm big, runt." He says, "It's not that the comments are so bad, it's that I hear them so many times. It's hard for me to hide my emotions. I come off as being mean, ugly. Sometimes I get the feeling I am that way. I don't like what all that makes me become."
But now he is thinking back to what he was. "I never got into trouble when I was a kid, but it's strange, I got the reputation of being a bully. I didn't deserve it. Before I started playing football, I was getting my butt kicked constantly. It was always some old, little guy. At one point I was more round than tall. I was a bit timid, shy. Then I started playing football, and I guess that all kinda went away.
"But all through high school, guys would tease me. As late as my senior year some nut drew a picture of me on the board. A picture of some kind of beast. I guess they didn't know it hurt my feelings. All of a sudden one day I'd say 'Hey' and pop them on the side of the head.
"That's how I got in the habit of being a nice guy. Which—I ain't no nice guy. I think I have respect for other people. But I'm subject to do some wild things any minute."
Greene's wife, Agnes, stays in the Texas house while Joe is in Pittsburgh half the year. For that reason it might be suspected that she is a negligible figure, but in fact, though diminutive, she is not only very good-looking but smart, lively and, as Russell puts it, "very powerful."
"When I first went out with Joe in college," Agnes says, "I went to some of his home girls from Temple and asked about him. They said, 'Yeah, we know him. But girl, he is meannnnnn.' I guess I just don't bring it out in him." They got married in college and now have three kids.
"In the eighth grade," recalls Greene, "I weighed 158. But they didn't even give me a full uniform. I quit. The next year I weighed 203 and started getting what you might call confidence. My sophomore year I weighed 235. By my senior year I weighed 250. From my sophomore year on, I was a middle linebacker, and I love that position. If there was a tackle being made somewhere, I was on it. We didn't win, though. I got a reputation for being the dirtiest ballplayer that ever came out of that area. When we were losing, I'd act the fool. I didn't do that in college, because we won. I've never acted crazy in the pros unless we were losing.
"My sophomore year in high school I got kicked out of nine games. No, I got kicked out of all of 'em. My junior year it was nine. I ran over a few officials. Sometimes intentionally.
"I'll tell you how crazy I used to be. A team came to Temple and beat us, and afterwards—we had this little diner in town. I came in there, and the other team was eating. Their quarterback had an ice-cream cone. I took it away from him and smeared it all over his face. He didn't do anything. He went back to the team bus. Then I heard somebody call my name. I turned around, and a soda bottle hit my chest, and their quarterback, the guy I'd done that way, ducked back into the bus. Like a damn fool, I went at the bus. In the front door. They all went out the back door.
"But I'm not a brawler. I can't imagine getting hit in the face with a fist being any fun. I was standing in a bar in Pittsburgh. A guy came in, he was fairly good-sized, he walked straight at me. I moved, assumed he didn't see me. He came back. I moved again. He bumped me. I had the feeling this guy wanted to try me. I thought, Uh-oh. I stay out of those situations. They do get into life or death literally. I couldn't conceive of myself doing any harm to anybody fatally. But there's that old saying, 'Better he than me.' If you do jump into something like that, it's got to be final."