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He Does What He Wants out There
Roy Blount Jr.
September 05, 1994
This 1975 SI Classic profiles the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mean Joe Greene, a man with emotions as formidable as his physical gifts
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September 05, 1994

He Does What He Wants Out There

This 1975 SI Classic profiles the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mean Joe Greene, a man with emotions as formidable as his physical gifts

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Flick. Greene makes a grabbing motion from his armchair. Then he makes a throwing motion. A dead fly bounces off the wall. "Did I get him?" he says.

"It's a heck of a thing to realize you can't do anything but play football. I'm capable of other things, but that's the only thing I know now. In college they tried to get me to go to a lot of classes and things, but I kind of lost interest. I couldn't write. Because I didn't have anything to say. You can't be descriptive about nothing."

Greene has prospered. With a friend, he has started a janitorial company. He has appeared in a few quickie films—in one of which, The Bad Black Six, he picked white motorcycle hoods up over his head and threw them. He seems a bit defensive about his movie career, though he shows up well enough on the screen. This summer he turned down a chance to star in a movie as a washed-up ballplayer. Like most ballplayers, he has no taste for the rough give-and-take of business.

He has trusted several agents who he feels cheated him. "When you make a lot of money fast, that's when the buzzards are thickest," he says. He is suffering currently over his estrangement from several college friends who had gone on to play pro ball. He had been involved with them in a firm that planned to represent other players and invest in real estate. Greene withdrew from the group. "They thought I deserted them. But we just didn't have the vehicle. We'd have wound up ripping people off, too. I'm not gonna let the snake bite me if I know it's there."

Greene is settling down. "I'm more into practice and working out," he says. "I didn't used to have the patience for those things. This off-season I did something every day, or every other day, or every chance I got. Jog, play basketball." Steeler strength coach Lou Riecke brought him a set of weights in February. "I used to just lift when Lou or Chuck was looking. When they turned their heads, I'd stop. But then some of the guys I used to throw around a little bit, I couldn't anymore. I'd have to spend too much energy doing it. I'm basically lazy."

This season Greene looks different. His upper body is more conventionally muscular, his distinctive spare tire is gone. He has a championship to defend. Does all this mean he will be even better?

"When I dream at night," he says, "I visualize techniques. Some of 'em are just ungodly. It's just cat quickness; run over a guy, hurdle him, jump six feet, put three or four moves on him so he freezes. No flaws in those moves. Perfect push and pull on the guard, jump over the center. Another blocker, slap him aside. Block the ball when the quarterback throws it, catch it and run 99 yards. 'Cause I don't want it to be over quick! The only thing that ever matched the dreams I had was the Super Bowl."

Greene and Art Rooney seemed to enjoy the Super Bowl more than anybody. Rooney, the Chief, was in camp one afternoon this summer, standing beside the practice field. A kid asked him for his autograph. "Where do you come from?" asked the Chief. The kid named a town. The Chief asked, "You know Dr. Weaver there? He had a sign in his office: I'M NOT A DOCTOR. WHAT I HAVE IS A GIFT FROM GOD. But he could do more for your muscles than anybody." The Chief went on about others in his wide range of friends, Tip O'Neill, Sargent Shriver, Mean Joe Greene.

"I knew we were going all the way last year before the playoff game with Oakland when Joe came up to me," Rooney says. "He grabbed my hand and said, 'We're gonna get 'em.' That was an emotional moment. I never had a moment like that."

There was a time when the Chief voiced doubts about Joe Greene. That was when the Steelers had drafted him No. 1 and he was holding out. "Who is he anyway?" the Chief grumbled. "I don't know that he's so good."

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