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Roy Blount Jr.
September 22, 1975
In his dreams, Pittsburgh's Mean Joe Greene pushes and pulls his way past a guard, jumps six feet over the center, slaps aside another blocker, deflects the pass, catches the ball and runs 99 yards for a touchdown
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September 22, 1975

He Does What He Wants Out There

In his dreams, Pittsburgh's Mean Joe Greene pushes and pulls his way past a guard, jumps six feet over the center, slaps aside another blocker, deflects the pass, catches the ball and runs 99 yards for a touchdown

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"The whole. That's what's important. The whole." He glowed in the dark. He threw his empty beer can. Whango! It exploded the offensive line's carefully constructed three-foot-high pyramid of cans. Cans bounded all over the floor and the offensive line. "Time to go to supper anyway," said Greene. No one took offense.

Greene was born 28 years ago in Temple, Texas. He looks older—not aged, but just not boyish at all. He was always big for his age, and always will be. The rumor began some time ago that he was actually six years older than his official age, as if he had been found unknown in the fields somewhere and passed off by his high school as an adolescent. Art Rooney Jr. checked the records and found the rumor to be untrue. Greene was raised by his mother, who lives with him and who always called him Joe, which is a good thing because Mean Charles Greene sounds silly.

He grew up without a father. What if he'd had one around? "Maybe it would've made me stronger in some ways in which I'm weak," he says. "Given me some stability. I often wonder. But I always knew my mother loved me. No matter how hard it was, she always took care of us. I chopped cotton some, picked cotton, but all the kids did that. When I was 12 I told myself I'd never go back in the fields. I had a burning desire to be a success at something. Not necessarily football. I often sit around and reminisce. I don't want to get away too far from hustling money for a pair of shoes, and being into every day black situations. Times were—I guess they were tough; I miss 'em. It's been a long time—since high school, early college days—since I've felt at ease. I feel anxieties, pressures, feel that people are going to ask me for an autograph even when they don't. Sometimes I feel good about giving autographs, when people are really nice and it means something to them. But people come up to you when you're out to dinner. 'How much you make?' Out of the clear blue! 'What you doing out this late?' 'When they gonna put you to work?' What you mean 'they'? If I'm gonna work, I'm gonna put myself to it."

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. I still am a bit. Then I started playing football and I guess that all kinda went away. I started taking my aggressions out on other people.

"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 Andy 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.

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