Art Rooney II used the word “cornerstone” to describe what Joe Greene meant to the Steelers franchise, an apt choice by the team president, who was a teenager when Chuck Noll made his first draft pick in 1969.
That was some kind of statement by Noll, who was officially hired for just one day when the Steelers picked Greene on the first round on Jan. 28. How’s that for draft preparation?
I’ve interviewed, chatted and exchanged greetings with Joe many, many times through the years, including on the telephone yesterday after his retirement announcement. You can read my full story on his retirement and what he had to say in today’s Post-Gazette. http://tinyurl.com/buzvf8e
We veered into other topics, however, and one of them was how money has changed some players, and he was particularly disappointed with how it’s changed some on the Steelers.
“The scary thing is that players have a one-upsmanship about money; they sign a contract and they like it until someone signs a bigger one and now they don’t like it. I don’t like that. I don’t begrudge anyone money but it disrupts the football team.
“The Steelers over the years have been able to keep everyone happy under the structure.”
That has changed, recently, Greene noted.
“There’s a different attitude with the players, maybe players we brought in, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s good.’’
I asked him if he was referring to what some current Steelers such as Antonio Brown and Ryan Clark mentioned this year, that the 2012 Steelers locker room was “fractured.’’
“I do not know, I wasn’t there,’’ said Greene, who when not on the road as a scout lived in the Dallas area. “It’s an attitude change. In all my years of being with Pittsburgh, I never encountered a player taking a contract dispute into the season and letting that dispute affect the way he played. That’s a bad thing.”
The Steelers had one major example of that in 2012 when Mike Wallace declined to sign his contract until he missed the entire spring and summer camps and all four preseason games. His receiving statistics declined to 64 receptions for 836 yards compared to the previous season of 72 receptions for 1,193 yards.
Did Greene mean Mike Wallace?
“It would be unfair for me to call someone out, not knowing who that person is,’’ Greene said. “That’s the other issue there, guys taking locker room information and knowledge outside the locker room. That was something the group I was involved with and when I was coaching, players didn’t do that.
“Again, I think that’s the attitude and direction that was so preeminent with the Pittsburgh Steelers; it was about family, it was about team, the organization. Everyone in the organization would get treated fairly because we were a family.
“I think that’s the attitude that’s been with the Steelers all these years. That’s one of the reasons the team has been competitive the majority of time after the first Super Bowl, after Franco came.”
A few more things about Greene before we let him get into his life’s work, which may involve some more football because he says he’d like to help some youth teams near his home:
--- I saw Joe Greene cry once, when we were talking one evening at training camp in 2008 about the deaths of Dwight White and Ernie Holmes that year. Greene said he had cautioned White about the back surgery he was about to have. White died in June from complications from that back surgery. Holmes died that January in an auto accident. Holmes and Greene were Texas natives and White, born in Virginia, was raised in Texas. They and Mississippi native L.C. Greenwood formed the original, formidable Steel Curtain front four.
Greene said he loved his final job with the Steelers, scouting, but he never found that one hidden gem in the bushes he said all scouts search for. He said it was easy to identify the good ones, the ones who would be high picks.
“All that was the process in pursuit of trying to find people to help us win and knowing 31 other teams are in pursuit of the same guys. You never lose sight that maybe you could find that diamond in the rough that nobody saw.”
He pointed to the find by scout Dan Rooney Jr., who alerted the Steelers to a kid named Willie Parker, who he had been following since high school. Rooney and Parker both lived in North Carolina. Parker went to North Carolina but was not used much and went undrafted. At the urging of Rooney, the Steelers signed him.
“It happened with Dan Rooney when he brought in Fast Willie. Those are the kinds of things that sets you apart [as a scout] and Willlie was instrumental in the Steelers winning Super Bowl 40. That’s what you’re pursuing. You’ll take all the first-rounders everyone is pursuing too, but you like to get the Fast Willie.”
Before Noll drafted Greene in 1969, the Steelers had no first-round pick make an impact with them since they chose tackle Frank Varrichione in 1955. Indeed, they traded away many of their first-round picks. Here is the record, starting with 1968 and going back:
OT Mike Taylor, Traded, RB Dick Lethridge, Traded, DB Paul Martha, Traded, RB Bob Ferguson, Traded, B Jack Spikes, Traded, Traded, QB Lenny Dawson, Backs Gary Glick and Art Davis (two in 1956).
One Hall of Famer there, but typical of those Steelers, Dawson had to make his mark elsewhere.