University Of North Texas
1967 Mean Green Joe Greene
Every HELMET HUT reader and pro football fan is aware of the name “Mean Joe” Greene. Even with an astute awareness that most other fans do not have, many of our site visitors may not know that Mr. Greene’s loving, single mother bestowed the name “Joe” upon him and that the “Mean” adjective did not come until his college career at North Texas State University. Charles Edward Greene was called “Joe” because his mother Cleo chose that nickname for him and he was viewed around Temple, Texas as anything but mean. A large, gentle, and shy youngster, he was often the target of bullies and described himself as “more round than tall” and “timid” when he entered high school. The perception of his peers changed rapidly as it was on the football field that he found his true calling and unleashed a pent up fury that often found him ignoring the admonitions of his high school coach Curtis Elliott and being ejected by the officials for rough or dirty play. High school football was rough at segregated Temple Dunbar High School and Joe Greene roamed the field as an offensive tackle and 6’3”, 225 pound middle linebacker, happily dispensing “roughness” with every impact. Texas A&I and North Texas State noticed and the Eagles won out, playing Joe at his familiar linebacking spot until his sophomore year in 1966 where he turned in an All Conference season as a 247 pound defensive tackle for coach Odus Mitchell.
Mitchell bowed out after this successful Missouri Valley Conference Co-Championship 8-2 season, ending his twenty-one year reign as the Eagles head mentor. Mitchell described Greene as “the best sophomore lineman I’ve ever seen” and his All MVC selection solidified that opinion for many. Anchoring the Eagles defensive line from his left tackle position, North Texas State finished second in the nation against the rush, yielding but 51.3 yards per game. The crushing defensive group excited the fan base who identified their heroes with the moniker “Mean Green.” With Rod Rust taking over the program in 1967 after a tenure as a Stanford assistant, the offense very much caught up to the defense as he introduced superb sophomore quarterback Steve Ramsey, a future Saints and Broncos starter. The high flying offense contributed to the 7-1-1 and undefeated Missouri Valley Conference record with huge passing statistics, ranking Ramsey as the tenth best passer in the country and the nation’s leader with twenty-one passing touchdowns. Soph receiver Ronnie Shanklin was the ninth most prolific scorer and also a national leader with his thirteen touchdown receptions. While the eighth best passing offense in the nation attracted attention, it was the defense, again led by Joe Greene and All Conference DB Charles Beatty, which smashed opponents, ranking in the top ten in both rushing and total defense. Greene wasn’t even at his best. Though injured through much of the latter part of the season, one football analyst noted that “…even when limping he’s a better defender than most,” and Greene was again a unanimous All MVC selection.
By this time, North Texas State Eagle mascot Scrappy had taken second seat to “Mean Green” as an official name for all of the school’s athletic teams and this could very much be chalked up to the effect of one Charles Edward “Joe” Greene. During Joe’s three varsity seasons, the Mean Green wore three different helmets while Joe was posing as the proverbial immovable object. Head coach Mitchell preferred the traditional look of “simple” white shells with player identification numerals on each side which proved to be the Eagles’ standard for a number of years, before adding a single one-inch Kelly green center stripe. Mitchell completed his excellent career at North Texas State in ‘66 by adding Kelly green flanking stripes to a white shell that maintained the player identifying numerals on each side. When Rust took charge in ’67, he changed to an interlocking NT design on each side of the white helmet so that the emerging school was more easily identified, and altered the stripe design. The two Kelly green flanking stripes used in Coach Mitchell’s final season were replaced by a single one-inch center stripe and he added block style player identification numerals on the rear of the shell. As the Missouri Valley Conference earned more national attention for teams that posted impressive offensive numbers, North Texas State sought to enhance its “Mean Green” recognition entering the 1968 season. With Tulsa, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Memphis State playing a more inter-sectional schedule, and with the advantage of having both an exciting offense and one of the nation’s best defenders, Coach Rust again, made a uniform change.