Former Steelers defensive end L.C. Greenwood, a member of theSteel Curtain defense, died Sunday. The cause of death waskidney failure, according to the Allegheny County medical examiner.
Mr. Greenwood, a Point Breeze resident, was 67.
Mr. Greenwood played for the Steelers from 1969 to 1981 and earned four Super Bowl rings. Selected to the Pro Bowl six times, he registered 73 1/2 career sacks, which ranks second in franchise history behind Jason Gildon. Mr. Greenwood's sacks are unofficial because the National Football League did not officially begin keeping track of sacks until 1982.
A native of Canton, Miss., Mr. Greenwood teamed up with Hall of Fame defensive lineman Joe Greene, Dwight White and Ernie Holmes to form the dominant defensive front four in the NFL in the 1970s. Many football historians consider it to be the best front four of all-time.
Mr. Greenwood was one of several players the Steelers drafted or signed from small historically black colleges in the 1970s. He was a 10th-round draft choice from Arkansas AM&N (now Arkansas-Pine Bluff), and the Steelers accidentally stumbled upon him when going to scout another player.
"I went to Arkansas AM&N to scout someone else, and this great big, tall, skinny guy kept catching my eye," said Art Rooney Jr., who ran the player personnel department for the team in the 1970s. "The guy I went to see was all right, but L.C. was a terrific player. The coaches there were really pushing him. [Steelers head coach] Chuck Noll kept telling us he wanted great athletes that also had high intelligence. We were maybe going to sign him as a free agent, but Chuck kept pushing us. He wanted to draft him. He was really into the weight lifting and thought he could bulk him up."
At 6 feet 6 inches, Mr. Greenwood eventually played at 245 pounds and was a menace to opposing quarterbacks. If Mr. Greenwood didn't sack quarterbacks, he often batted down their passes.
In the first of many clutch performances in big games, Mr. Greenwood batted down two passes in the Steelers' first Super Bowl victory, against Minnesota in 1975. In the Super Bowl X victory against Dallas the following year, Mr. Greenwood sacked Roger Staubach four times in the 21-17 win.
"L.C. was a quiet guy, he didn't attempt to position himself as the center of attention even though he played an integral part of that front four," said former Steelers scout Bill Nunn, who also scouted Mr. Greenwood. "I used to call him and Jack Ham the quiet assassins because neither one of them would say a word, or put on a show for you. They both just went about their business quietly. But when they got on the field, as far as playing ability, playing aggressively, being tough, they were both in the same category as any of the Hall of Famers. He had a lot of qualities of the Hall of Famers and probably should be in there."
Mr. Greenwood was a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005 and 2006 but was not elected either year. There had been a movement in recent years to get him into the Hall of Fame via the seniors committee.
"The saddest thing is, he never got into the Hall of Fame," Mr. Rooney said. "To me, it's terribly sad. He deserves to be there."
Mr. Nunn was hired as a part-time scout in 1967 and was promoted to a full-time position with the team in 1969, the year the Steelers drafted Mr. Greenwood. Mr. Nunn was responsible for scouting the small black colleges. The way Mr. Nunn tells it, Mr. Greenwood's prolific career would have never taken off if not for Mr. Noll, who championed him throughout his first training camp.
"When I scouted, I always tried to look at a guy's athletic ability, and the one thing about L.C. Greenwood was that you could see how great an athlete he was even though his teams were not very good," Mr. Nunn said. "But when he came to the Steelers, there were some coaches, or actually one coach in particular, who, if he had his way, L.C. would not have even made the team. Thankfully, Chuck Noll was really good at seeing a guy's athletic ability and working from there, and that is what he did with L.C., and they did a great job of coaching him and developing him. But in terms of raw natural ability, he was one of the best on those teams."
Nicknamed "Hollywood Bags" and known for wearing gold shoes, Mr. Greenwood quickly established himself with the Steelers. In 1971, he had five fumble recoveries, which tied for the NFL lead. In 1974, he posted a career-high 11 sacks.
"If you look at how the game has changed in terms of scouting and the way black players are viewed today, [Mr. Greenwood slipping to bottom of draft] would have never happened," Mr. Nunn said. "He would have been a high pick. Some teams may not have liked his style, but someone would have grabbed him for his athleticism. He really was smooth and he was cool with those gold shoes and he was as easy going as they come, but he really was a tough guy, as tough as they come."
Mr. Greenwood remained in Pittsburgh after being cut by the Steelers before the 1982 season. He started and ran several businesses, including a construction and paving company, a packaging company and an engineering firm. He also appeared in several national and local commercials, including a national Miller Lite beer campaign.
According to his official website, Mr. Greenwood was a life member of the NAACP, a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
No funeral arrangements were available Sunday.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com or on Twitter @rayfitt1. Paul Zeise
First Published September 29, 2013 2:46 pm