Joe Greene (American football)

Joe Greene (American football)
Joe Greene
Defensive Tackle
Jersey #(s)
75 (72 early 1969)
Born September 24, 1946 (1946-09-24) (age 65)
Temple, Texas
Career information
Year(s) 19691981
NFL Draft 1969 / Round: 1 / Pick: 4
College North Texas
Professional teams
Career stats
Sacks 78.5
Games 181
Interceptions 1

Stats at [

  • Rated #13 NFL Player of all-time by
  • Pro Bowl Appearances( 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1979)
  • 5× First-team All-Pro selection (1972, 1973, 1974, 1977, 1979)
  • 3× Second-team All-Pro selection (1969, 1971, 1975)
  • 11× First-team All-AFC selection (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979)
  • Super Bowl champion (IX, X, XIII, XIV)
  • NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team
  • NFL 1970s All-Decade Team
  • 1969 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year
  • 2× AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1972, 1974)
  • 2× NEA NFL Defensive MVP winner (1972, 1974)]
Career highlights and awards
  • N/A

Charles Edward Greene, known as “Mean Joe” Greene, (born September 24, 1946) is a former all-pro American football defensive tackle who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL. Throughout the early 1970s he was the one of most dominant defensive players in the National Football League.[1] He is considered by many to be one of the greatest defensive linemen ever and was the cornerstone of the legendary “Steel Curtain” defense.[1] He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and a four-time Super Bowl champion. His nickname, "Mean Joe Greene" stems from his alma mater, the University of North Texas' athletic teams, which are nicknamed the Mean Green. Greene is also well known for his appearance in the "Mean Joe Greene" Coca-Cola commercial in 1979, considered to be one of the all-time best Super Bowl commercials.[2][3]


College career

Before his NFL career, "Mean Joe" Greene had an outstanding college football career at North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) (1966–68), leading the team to a 23-5-1 record during his three seasons. In his 29 games at defensive tackle, North Texas State held the opposition to 2,507 yards gained on 1,276 rushes, a per carry average of less than two yards per attempt. His collegiate coach, Rod Rust, said of the 1968 consensus All-America, "There are two factors behind Joe's success. First, he has the ability to make the big defensive play and turn the tempo of a game around. Second, he has the speed to be an excellent pursuit player." A pro scout said, "He's tough and mean and comes to hit people. He has good killer instincts. He's mobile and hostile."[4]

He got his nickname when the Pittsburgh fan base mistakenly assumed that the North Texas team nickname of "Mean Green" was Joe Greene's nickname; however, Coach Rust's wife wanted to give a nickname to the team's outstanding defense. Since green is the school's main color, she gave the defense the name "Mean Green".

In 1984, he was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. In 2006, Greene was voted to the East-West Shrine Game Hall of Fame.[5]

Pro football career

In 1969, he was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the fourth pick of the NFL draft and spent his entire career with them until his retirement in 1981. When Greene was drafted, a newspaper headline asked, Who's Joe Greene? The question was quickly answered as Greene became so good that teams double-teamed, and even triple-teamed, him throughout his entire career.

After he was drafted, Greene quickly established himself as a dominant defensive player. He was strong, quick and intense. He was the NFL's Rookie of the Year in 1969, even though he played on a Steelers team that went 1-13 in Chuck Noll's first year as its head coach. The Steelers quickly improved over the next few seasons. Greene later admitted that he was upset with being drafted by the Steelers due to their long history of losing. He often showed his displeasure on the field, including an incident during a game with the Chicago Bears in which he spat in the face of Dick Butkus and challenged Butkus, long considered the NFL's meanest player, to a fight.

In his early years with the Steelers, Greene was at times uncontrollable, and often let his temper get the best of him. At one time, during a 1975 game against the rival Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in which the Steelers won 42-6, Greene repeatedly kicked Browns lineman Bob McKay in the groin while McKay was lying on the ground.[6] Another incident had Greene snap the ball away from the center while the opposing team was lining up for a play. He had no tolerance for losing, and the team veterans quickly took notice. His intense desire to win rallied the veterans around him, and with great drafts as well as superb coaching, the Steelers franchise soon began to undergo a dramatic makeover. Joe Greene was credited as the cornerstone of the great Steelers dynasty and the most important player in team history.

Greene was the leader and the anchor of the "Steel Curtain" defense that won four Super Bowls in the 1970s[citation needed]. He was recognized as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in both 1972 and 1974. He, along with other members of the Steelers' front four (L. C. Greenwood, Dwight White and Ernie Holmes) even appeared on the cover of Time magazine. In Super Bowl IX, Greene became the first player ever to record an interception, a forced fumble, and fumble recovery in a single Super Bowl. He went to the Pro Bowl 10 times during his career.

Greene is also well-known for the "stunt 4-3" defense, in which he would line up at an angle, between the center and guard, and would explode into the line taking up 2-3 blockers. He started doing this sometime in the 1974 season, and while it cut down on the number of sacks he racked up, it freed up his other defensive teammates like middle linebacker Jack Lambert to make tackles with ease[citation needed].

After leading the Steelers to another Super Bowl win after the 1975 season over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl X, Greene missed the first several games of the 1976 season with a back injury. The Steelers started off the season 1-4 and looked like they would not make the playoffs. Quarterback Terry Bradshaw was also injured and was replaced by rookie Mike Kruczek. The season looked lost. But Greene and the Steelers defense carried the Steelers to nine straight wins and the playoffs. With a defense considered one of the best in NFL history, the 1976 Steelers held opponents to an average of less than 10 points per game (138 points over 14 games). During their nine-game winning streak, the Steelers defense recorded five shutouts, another modern record, and gave up a total of just 28 points (roughly 3 points per game). The defense allowed only two touchdowns over nine games.

Ten of the eleven starters on that 1976 Steelers team were players who made the Pro Bowl at least once in their career (eight starters made the Pro Bowl after the 1976 season). Middle linebacker Jack Lambert had, along with Greene, become the emotional leader of the defense and over the next several years became the dominant player at his position while Greene continued to perform at an all-pro level, becoming a 5-time All-Pro (1972–74, 77, 79) and in 1969 receiving the first of his 10 Pro Bowl invitations. He retired after the 1981 season after 13 years in the league.

His spot on the team was technically not replaced: the Steelers switched to a 3-4 defensive alignment for the 1982 season, which has only one nose tackle as opposed to two defensive tackles, giving the extra spot to a second middle linebacker. The team has used the 3-4 alignment since Greene's retirement.

His end stats were 181 games, 78.5 sacks (unofficially, as sacks were not an official statistic until 1982) and 16 fumble recoveries. Joe Greene had 190 tackles in 1978.


After retiring from the NFL, Greene spent one year (1982) as a color analyst for CBS' NFL coverage before becoming an assistant coach under Steelers' head coach Chuck Noll in 1987. He spent the next 16 years as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins, and Arizona Cardinals. In 2004, he retired from coaching and was named the special assistant for player personnel for the Steelers. In this position he earned his 5th Super Bowl ring after the Steelers won Super Bowl XL, and a sixth from Super Bowl XLIII. Greene is one of four people outside the Rooney family to have Super Bowl rings from the first six championship teams.[7]

It was Greene, in fact, who coined the phrase "One for the Thumb in '81" after the Steelers won Super Bowl XIV[citation needed]. After the Steelers missed the playoffs in 1980, the saying was shortened to "One for the Thumb" and became the unofficial rally cry for the Steelers' search for the elusive fifth Vince Lombardi Trophy until the team finally won it in 2005.

Although the Steelers do not officially retire jersey numbers, Greene's number 75 has not been issued since his retirement and is understood to be "unofficially retired". Greene also briefly wore number 72 during his rookie season before switching to his more familiar 75 midseason.[8]

Greene was inducted into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame in 1987.

Greene now resides in Flower Mound, Texas.

Film and television

Greene made a number of television and film appearances:

  • The Black Six (1974) as Kevin Washington
  • Horror High (1974) as the coach's buddy, a policeman
  • Lady Cocoa (1975)
  • Fighting Back: The Story of Rocky Bleier (1980TV) as a Steeler player
  • Smokey and the Bandit II (1980) as himself
  • ...All the Marbles (1981) as himself
  • The Steeler and the Pittsburgh Kid (1981TV) as himself
  • SCTV in the episode "Battle of the PBS Stars" as himself
  • Family Guy episode "Road To Germany" as himself

"Hey, kid, catch!" Coca-Cola commercial

Greene appeared in a famous commercial for Coca-Cola which aired during the 1980 Super Bowl, and won a Clio Award for best ad of the year. In the commercial, which first aired in late 1979 and was part of the "Have a Coke and a Smile" ad campaign, a child (Tommy Okon) gives an injured Greene a Coke, prompting "Mean" Joe to smile and toss the kid his team jersey.[9] The heartwarming commercial became immensely popular, listed as one of the top ten commercials of all time by multiple sources, including TV Guide magazine. The ad was also shown in many other countries (including the UK) even where Greene wasn't well known. The campaign's art director was Roger Mosconi, the writer was Penny Hawkey, and the singers of the "Coke and a Smile" jingle were Jim Campbell, Don Thomas, Liz Corrigan, Shellie Littman, Arlene Martell, and Linda November. The footage was shot in May 1979 in a small stadium in Mount Vernon, New York, and the commercial was released on October 1, 1979, though it was its airing during the 1980 Super Bowl that brought it the most attention.[10][11]

Greene later recalled that in filming the commercial, it took several takes to get his final line in the commercial right ("Hey, kid, catch!") "It's very hard to gulp down an entire bottle of Coca-Cola, and then speak clearly. The first three takes we did, when I finished the bottle, I looked at the kid and said, 'Hey, kid...Urrrp!' It wasn't intentional. I just couldn't say the line without burping."

Due to the longstanding popularity of the Coke commercial featuring Greene, Coca-Cola and the Steelers have since developed a longtime partnership, which includes the Coca-Cola Great Hall at Heinz Field, which honors the Steeler greats, including Greene, despite the fact that the NFL as a whole currently has a sponsorship deal with Pepsi.

In popular culture

The commercial was later adapted to star other countries' sports stars, including Argentina (with Diego Maradona playing Greene's role), Brazil (with Zico), Italy (with Dino Zoff) and Thailand. Also, a similar themed advert for Pepsi aired in the UK with David Beckham many years later.

  • In 1981, "The Steeler and the Pittsburgh Kid" expanded the Coke commercial into a TV movie with Greene playing himself and the kid played by Henry Thomas, who soon after starred as Elliot in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
  • In 1994, as a parody in the Simpsons. In the fifth season, twelfth episode of the Simpsons "Bart_Gets_Famous" Bart walks down the hallway at Krusty Studio when Krusty says "Hey Kid" and tosses him a towel.
  • In 2006, in a TV ad promoting asthma awareness. In the 2006 ad, a child with asthma tosses his Jerome Bettis Steelers jersey to Jerome himself, who is also an asthma sufferer.
  • In 1980, Greene appeared as himself in a sketch parodying the Coca-Cola ad on the CBS comedy-variety series The Tim Conway Show, with the "kid" portrayed by the comedian himself. When Conway says, "Uh Mr. Greene?", Mean Joe throws him the football and knocks him to the ground.
  • In 1983 the Newhart episode "A View from the Bench" Bob Newhart's character is expelled from Boston Garden's seating section to the tunnel for a Celtic's game, in which an exhausted player is offered a "cold drink" from Newhart and turns back shouting "Hey Kid" as he tosses Newhart his basketball shoes as a souvenir.
  • In season one of Star Wars: Clone Wars, Mace Windu lands in front of a small farm child during the Battle of Dantooine, who then offers him a sip of his canteen before Windu force jumps away in a reference to the Coke kid commercial.
  • The Family Guy episode "Peter, Peter, Caviar Eater" where "Mean" Joe not only offers his jersey, but throws the rest of his clothing as well. This same reference was portrayed once again in Family Guy in the episode "Road to Germany", when Stewie is given some much-need uranium, to complete his time machine, by Mean Joe Greene. "Mean" has the same line as his previous appearance in Family Guy, saying "Hey, kid, catch!".
  • The Futurama episode A Leela of Her Own, after jackie Anderson gives a back-handed compliment to Leela after taking over her position on the team, Leela says, "Hey kid" and throws a towel at her, knocking her down.
  • During Super Bowl XLIII, in which the Steelers would defeat the Arizona Cardinals for their sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy, a commercial of current Steelers player Troy Polamalu aired that had him do a remake of the famous Coke commercial, except it was advertising for Coca-Cola Zero instead.[12] Two Coke "brand managers" take the Coke Zero bottle away right when the kid was to give it to Polamalu, with Polamalu subsequently tackling one of the "brand managers", then instead of giving the kid his own jersey ripped the shirt off the "brand manager" he had tackled and tossed it to the kid. Greene, who like Polamalu lives a very quiet lifestyle off the field in contrast to his on-the-field play, liked the commercial and gave his stamp of approval.[13]
  • An ad for the Fox TV series House, first aired during the 2011 Super Bowl XLV, parodies the original Mean Joe Greene Coke ad with a similar scene in which Dr. House, played by Hugh Laurie, throws his cane to a young fan played by Preston Bailey.[14]


  1. ^ a b Best run stuffer? Finding the best defensive tackle in the NFL
  2. ^ Fowler, Scott (February 23, 1992). "Take it from Mean Joe: Famous ad wasn't easy". Philadelphia Inquirer. 
  3. ^ "Top 10 Super Bowl Commericals of All Time: Coke's Mean Joe Greene, #3". Warner Brothers. Retrieved June 17, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Joe Greene College Football Hall of Fame bio". College Football Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2009-04-07. 
  5. ^ Shrine
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Hey, kid, catch!" Coca-Cola ad.
  10. ^ Isaacs, Stan (December 17, 1979). "Mean Joe: Goliath plays Othello". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved June 17, 2011. 
  11. ^ "Singers' Seminar explores steps to success" (pdf). Stand By (New York: AFTRA) 43 (2). Fall 2010. Retrieved June 17, 2011. "At the request of the singers in the audience, Arlene sang "A Coke and a Smile", a classic jingle with Mean Joe Green which has played every year for a decade on Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials, and in 2009 was voted into the Super Bowl Hall of Fame. Singers on the commercial are Jim Campbell, Don Thomas, Liz Corrigan, Shellie Littman, Arlene Martell, and Linda November" 
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Former Seaside boy set to appear in Super Bowl commercial Sunday -". The Daily Astorian (Astoria, Oregon). February 4, 2011. Retrieved 7 February 2011. 

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