We all know how great of a football player Mean Joe Greene was. His enshrinement to not only the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but College Football Hall of Fame is proof that Greene was an all-time legend in that sport. For fans of Green a new book is coming out on the Super Bowl champ that goes beyond football.
Mean Joe Greene: Built By Football, written by Joe and Jon Finkel, is the inside story of how a series of mentors, mindset changes and maybe some luck that helped a young man turn a scholarship offer from a small college in Texas into a selection as an All-American, a first-round draft pick in the NFL and a life in football that would get him six Super Bowl rings, including two as a coach.
As the first book in the Football Matters’ ‘Built By Football’ series, Greene discusses how football helped shape his character, his leadership skills, taught him humility and integrity, and helped him learn the lessons he would use throughout his life as a player, husband, father, friend and coach.
Joe Greene: It is a series of guys similar to me that were doing it for the football foundation. I got a real good feeling about Jon. That was a big part of it. After all these years there have been a lot of things written about the Pittsburgh Steelers and all of its participants. Two years ago I did A Football Life with the NFL. It ended up alright. There were things that were said and things that I hadn’t been said before that got me to talk a little bit more about myself.
AE: One of your key points in the book was not having a dad around when you were growing up. You saw father figures in coaches. Years later you could other kids looking for a father figure in their lives. To you what is the importance of having a good father figure in a child’s life?
JG: Where I am now I can see that in retrospect that having a positive male figure eliminates mistakes and having learned lessons more than once. There is always going to be something new, but having a positive male figure does eliminate some mistakes that we make as we journey through life as young men and women.
AE: Franco Harris and Dan Rooney wrote forewords in your book. What did it mean to you to read what they wrote about you?
JG: I was just so delighted. People that I spent my career working with to say such positive things about me was very good. Especially my boss and guys that I played with. Mel Blount, he was on the defensive side. My boss, Mr. Dan Rooney and Franco. I call Franco Mr. Pittsburgh. In my view he was Mr. Pittsburgh. He did everything for everyone who called upon him to do it. He was always just a fine man.
One of the things that I had learned through my time playing with the Steelers was that all the guys with that I learned lesson through them. Franco being one. Mel Blount being another.
AE: One of the themes in the book was leadership. A lot of your teammates looked to you as a leader. How did football shape you into the man you have become?
JG: It was the environment that I was in with a head coach that I think a great deal about in Chuck Knoll. The ownership too. I have said many times as I was growing up playing pro football and afterwards was that some of the antics that I did early on in my career I don’t know if I would be able to survive playing in the National Football League if I didn’t have the people with patience and tolerance for my antics.
It was a really, really nice road map for me to follow. To grow up with not only Chuck being the head coach, but with management in Dan Rooney. I was just blessed with having some wonderful teammates. You can name them. Some of those guys wouldn’t be the names that people grew up to know. You watch guys play and perform under all kinds of circumstances. They could be injured or have problems with their families or their health was not ideal. Whether they were not happy with the positions that they were playing or how things were going. You get to see in the locker room or the practice field or on game days the effort that was put forth. You see the quality of the man come out. I learned a lot things by watching them. I did watch. I think that is where I gained some experience from watching as I was participating.
AE: Out of the many accolades, awards, Super Bowl rings is there one game, season or award that stands out to you the most in your fantastic career?
JG: After was all said and done there were many that I could point to that were tremendous blessings for me and our football team. The one individual thing that I think about is that was such a wonderful expression of what this person thought of me and being part of that football team was when Dan Rooney asked me to be his presenter when he went into the Hall of Fame. He had so many people that he could have called upon to do that. They all would have been worthy of that great honor. I was extremely happy about that.
When it comes to on the field probably the one moment that brought so much joy was defeating the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Championship in 1974 in that moment when we knew we were going to the Super Bowl. I have had some wonderful moments, but that was the one that propelled us and gave me that feeling tremendous joy. I was on the 1-13 team. I was the team that represented Pittsburgh that hadn’t ever won anything. That was the moment for me.
AE: What were some of the first few thoughts that popped into your mind when you found out that you were going to be a dad?
JG: The first time was oh my goodness. It was all trial and error. I know from growing up probably the number one emotion that you wanted to convey and what I wanted to convey was love. Love and caring. The other emotion was anger and disappointment. Know those feelings. There is nothing worse than having disappointment and no hope. Everything that I tried to do was not show disappointment. The second one was to show love. When I would discipline my kids I didn’t want to say anything to them that I couldn’t follow through on and that I didn’t follow through on.
AE: Practice what you preach right?
JG: Yep. We are all fallible. I made mistakes. Anytime that I did something that wasn’t fatherly with my kid I just wanted to show the other half. Let them know that even though I had to discipline them I still love them.
AE: What were some of the core values you looked to instill in your kids as they grew up?
JG: Trustworthiness. Respect. There are a lot of other things that you could name, but I think that if you don’t get burdened down with a whole lot of have-tos and want-tos just be trustworthy and respectful I think that will cover a lot of things.
AE: What advice do you have for new dads?
JG: Just make sure that your kids know that you love them. One thing that I am very, very happy about today is watching my son and my daughter interact with their kids. Watching them participate in their activities. Watching them being involved in their school work and asking them questions about how they are doing and what is going on with them.
I wasn’t as nearly as good as they are with their kids. I hope that I was, but watching them I know I wasn’t. You just want to make sure your kids know that you love them. Know that discipline is part of their development and because you discipline them doesn’t mean you don’t love them. They have to see both sides. You have to be consistent.
Life of Dad Quick Five
AE: Do you guys have a favorite family movie that you all love to watch together?
JG: (Laughs.) We were a movie family. We watched a lot of movies. They really liked watching the Star Wars series. They did. They liked that. I kind of liked The Raiders of the Lost Ark. All of those. They had a lot of good adventure in those ones.
AE: Do you guys have a favorite song that you all like to sing to or dance to as a family?
JG: Oh my. I think we danced to them all, but it would probably have something with Marvin Gaye, James Brown and others in that category.
JG: The perfect family vacation that we never took was going on a fishing trip with my boat. I am not a very good fisherman, but I went out a few times with my friends and father-in-law and always wanted to do that with my family. The good trip we did take was the zoo in San Diego on our way to Big Sur. We were in a motor home and we traveled for about a week. It was ten days going west and back. That was a lot of fun. We didn’t get bored with one another.
AE: What was your first thought when you found out you were going to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
JG: Speech. (Both laugh.) Speech. What am I going to say? That was it. I watched some of the Hall of Fame ceremonies and I knew that the speech was part of it.
AE: Tell me one thing about being a grandfather that is better than being a parent.
JG: Well I am not the one that has to discipline them. When it is time for them to go to bed I just send them home. (Both laugh.)