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Joe Greene’s Number Retired On Sunday

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In the aftermath of Sunday’s epic curb-stomping of the Colts, I was looking over my feed for any stories concerning the Pittsburgh Steelers. One immediately jumped out at me. It was titled, “Steelers LBs Smash Weight Room After Big Victory” and I won’t lie, my first thought was “Uh oh, they demolished the training facility celebrating after the game?” Those kind of things leap to mind when you follow a team with a habit of launching into obnoxiously long choreographed dance routines after every halfway decent play.

No, the Steelers didn’t party by causing mass destruction to team facilities. The story was about James Harrison and Jason Worilds, who evidently came in bright and early Monday morning to get in a light workout by deadlifting 450 pound barbells. I’ve kind of scoffed at the idea of “veteran leadership” – to me, being able to play is much more important than being vocal in the locker room – but I’m coming around that one of the Steelers problems in recent years was the loss of so many established leaders.

I don’t know Jason Worilds but I do know nobody works as hard or has as much heart as Deebo. And I can’t help but think some of the linebackers recent uptick in play directly coincides with #92 being back in Black and Gold.

I’m talking about leadership because this Sunday the Steelers are set to honor perhaps the greatest leader in team (if not football) history, Mean Joe Greene.

If you’re like me and obsessively collect every NFL Films dvd that remotely concerns the Steelers, you’ve probably heard plenty about Mean Joe. While Chuck Noll was a brilliant teacher and the offense had plenty of strong personalities like Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann, one thing that all those guys seem to universally agree on was Mean Joe was the Steel Dynasty’s undisputed leader. In fact, there’s a story repeated in a couple of them that when Noll made the switch from Joe Gilliam back to Bradshaw, many in the locker room weren’t happy with the move. When Greene told the locker room, “Brad is our guy,” that was it, everybody bought in and the rest is history.

I am too young to have seen Mean Joe play but anybody who is a second (or third or fourth) generation Steeler Nation has no doubt heard stories from older relatives. My late grandma, who I wrote about earlier this year in Blog News, used to describe him with three words, “He was mean.” She wasn’t being sarcastic or flip, she just meant he played with a snarling, angry, violent disposition that set the tone for the Steel Curtain. While Jack Lambert is in many ways the face of that unit, Greene was both the heart. Another thing you often hear when people talk about him – and this, in my book, is the best quality any athlete can ever have – is nobody hated losing more than Mean Joe Greene.

So this Sunday, before the Steelers face their biggest test of the season against the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers will officially retire the jersey that kid in the famous Coke commercial got in exchange for a bottle of pop. Wherever that guy is, I hope he still has it.