Their nicknames were Mean Joe, Hollywood Bags, Fats Holmes and Mad Dog. And in the mid-1970’s, they were known as the Steel Curtain Four. The Steel Curtain Four referred to the four defensive tackles of the Pittsburgh Steelers – there was Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Ernie Holmes and Dwight White. The team got their nickname from a 9th grader who had submitted the name “Steel Curtain” through a contest entry at a local radio station.
The Steel Curtain Four became the first dominant all-black starting four in league history. According to the Wall Street Journal, the four men, who were all raised in a racist southern environment, were called the Tuskegee Airmen in cleats.
Charles Edward Greene, a.k.a. Mean Joe Greene, was a defensive tackle from Elgin, Texas. Standing at 6 foot 4, weighing 275 lbs during the high point of his career, Joe Greene was a first round draft pick for the Steelers in 1969. He was rated #13 best player of all time by NFL.com and was the only player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1987).
L.C. “Hollywood Bags” Greenwood holds the number two spot on the Steelers’ all-time sacks list. Representing a small college in the south, Greenwood was a 10th-round draft pick out of Arkansas AM&N, which is now Arkansas Pine-Bluff. The defensive end from Canton, MS gave twelve years to the Steelers, which took him to the Pro Bowl six times. Within that time span, Greenwood, who got his nickname for always having his bags packed for Hollywood, made 73 and a half sacks.
Ernest Lee “Fats” Holmes joined the Steel Curtain in 1972 from Texas Southern University. Holmes described himself as “stone crazy,” especially after receiving five years probation for firing a gun at trucks and a police helicopter. Fats, who had been released from the team for weight problems, weighed 260 lbss during his career with the Steelers but weighed around 400 lbs. after retirement. Holmes was an intimidator on the field, but a giving and spiritual person out of uniform. He later became an ordained minister with his own church. Holmes passed away in 2008 in a fatal car accident in Houston, Texas, in which his vehicle rolled several times. He was 59 years old.
Dwight “Mad Dog” White, was drafted from Texas A&M University in 1971. White was in a hospital bed shortly before the 1975 Superbowl match against the Minnesota Vikings. He suffered from pneumonia and a lung infection, but left the hospital in order to win against the Vikings 16-6. During the game, White, eighteen pounds lighter from illness, made three tackles for zero yards. The Associated Press chose White as a first team All-AFC player in 1973. He passed away from a blood clot in his lung in 2008 at 58 years old.
The Steel Curtain players led the team to a total of four Superbowl wins for the Steelers, endorsements, magazine covers and the famous 1979 Mean Joe Greene Coca-Cola commercial, where he tosses a jersey to a young boy.
Sadly, L.C. Greenwood passed away days ago from kidney failure. Joe Greene is the final remaining member of the original Steel Curtain Four.