Hepburn, Charles Edward ( Mean Joe) Greene refuses to sign autographs. Like
Bruce Lee, he kicks people. Like Winston Churchill, he cries. "I never had
a desire to hurt anybody," Greene says. "I have at certain times had
violent urges, but I don't think I ever have hurt anybody. Tried to a couple
times, but I don't think I have. Yeah, guess I have. In high school. I was
dirty then. Kick 'em. I might not've hurt 'em, though, they might've just been
afraid of me.
"I do play
football no-holds-barred. Any edge I can get, I'll take. I'd grab a face mask
only in a fit of anger. Uncontrolled anger is damn near insane."
shattered three or four of Cleveland Guard Bob DeMarco's teeth, and they were
big teeth way back deep in the jaw. Once, Greene admits, he tried to twist the
head off a fellow professional who was holding him. Is it because deep down
inside they are so relieved that he is not going to twist their heads off—is
that why people who spend time with him are proud to say that Joe Greene is a
nice, warm, thoughtful, sensitive man?
are other men who are nice and don't get the credit for it that Greene does.
He's famous, that's part of it: he's the great defensive tackle and volatile
cornerstone of the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. And he has such
bearing. He may be the most nearly rollicking player in the NFL, but his
expression, which can be affable, droll, quirky, smoldering, tends to settle
into a basic grave. He can look as grave around the eyes as James Mason, but
stronger, of course. His head may be as big as James Mason's chest. Art Rooney
Jr. says that Greene is the only man in whose mouth one of Steeler patriarch
Art Rooney's huge billy-stick cigars looks normal.
No one would take
Greene for a sweet/terrifying child of nature, the way they took the late Big
Daddy Lipscomb. Greene has this discerning look. When Steeler Quarterback Terry
Bradshaw tells a joke to the team, one observer notes, he looks to Greene to
see if it has gone over. If it's a good joke, it probably has. With teammates
or friends, though not with fans, Greene is usually comfortable to be around.
He doesn't dominate a table.
But there is that
big head. And hands about the size of shovel blades. And there is a molten
quality about Greene's limbs. He is no Apollo (Zeus, maybe). He is jointed
oddly, and moves at once more smoothly and more floppily than other strong big
men. His physical presence suggests, perhaps, that he could shift—flick—any
loglike portion of himself in any direction at any moment. His college coach
called him "a fort on foot." And sometimes, on the field, he goes damn
Wearing a loose T
shirt and swim suit, Greene sits back in a soft chair in his comfortable home
in a suburb south of Dallas, with his 2-year-old daughter Jo Quel drowsing on
his chest. He has an air of profoundly edgy repose, like a mountain that would
like to ramble but is not about to slide. He muses, "I'm always nervous
like I got to do something, something other than what I'm doing. I don't know
what it is. Except playing. When you get into that game, you haven't got time
to think about what you ought to be doing. That game, that's it. I feel I've
got some helluva games in me. I'm just waiting for 'em to come. That's what I
keep pushing for—waiting."
Lord preserve our
sense of reality if whatever consummation Greene awaits comes to him. The
ground may open and he will descend to a place more intense, where he can chase
Beelzebub around kicking at him, or a chariot may come down and bear Greene off
to a better place where he can make all the tackles and also run back punts. As
it is, Greene has led his team to the NFL mountaintop and has had transcendent
individual moments on the field. Once he threw the other team's ball away. Once
he spit on Dick Butkus in front of everybody. Once he rushed the quarterback,
stole the ball from him, rumbled into the end zone with it, tossed it over his
head, caught it behind his back and handed it to a cheerleader.
Greene is more
than mighty, wily, fierce and twinkle quick. He is a man so daringly
self-defined and outrageously responsible that it is said of him, as of very
few other sports figures, "He does what he wants to out there." He
plays—or, sometimes, refuses to play—the conservative, regimented,
technology-ridden game of pro football as if it were a combat poem he is
writing, and gets away with it, and yet fits himself well enough into the
prevailing system to be the warmly accepted spearhead and bulwark of a winning
organization. There is no ballad of Mean Joe Greene but there was a TV
commercial. In this commercial Greene took a seat in a United Airlines plane,
shifted his loosely put-together frame around to test the seat's comfort, then
looked coldly, perhaps grimly, into the camera's eye and said, "I almost
football. He quit it the first time he went out for it and was still
threatening to quit it for good as late as last season. If his gifts had not
been so blatantly extraordinary he would never have gone so far in his
militaristic profession, for he has never taken to what is generally considered
discipline; he tended to run amok in high school ball, and when an older group
of Steeler scouts, since departed, watched him play for North Texas State, they
deplored his attitude. "Puts on weight, tendency to loaf," said one.
"Physically this boy has all of it," said another. "Mentally he is
disappointing in that he only uses his ability in spurts. Will need a heavy
hand, but he can play." Where anybody was going to find a hand heavy
enough, the scout did not say.