By Jill King Greenwood, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Twenty-nine years after retiring from professional football, L.C. Greenwood's time in the spotlight is again coming around.
The former Steelers defensive end turned 65 this month, and thousands of fans from his native Mississippi to Pittsburgh are mounting a campaign to get him elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Despite impressive statistics that include twice being named All-Pro and selected to six Pro Bowls as a member of the legendary Steel Curtain defense that helped the 1970s teams win six AFC Division Championships and four Super Bowls, Greenwood isn't enshrined in Canton, Ohio, despite seven nominations since 1991.
Though quarterback sacks were not yet an official statistic, Greenwood recorded 73.5 sacks during his 13-year career and recovered 14 fumbles. Knee injuries forced his retirement before the start of the 1982 season.
"I don't know what my career would have been without him," said former defensive tackle Joe Greene, inducted in 1987. "He should absolutely be in the Hall of Fame. Bottom line, he's being cheated."
Family and friends are circulating petitions and started a Facebook page -- www.facebook.com/Elect.LCGreenwood.Pro.Football.HallOfFame -- to collect 10,000 signatures asking the Hall of Fame's seniors committee to put Greenwood on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot.
The league won't comment on Greenwood or reasons for Hall of Fame choices, but popular sentiment is the selection committee bypassed Greenwood because so many Steelers are in the Hall, including nine of his teammates, owner Dan Rooney, team president Art Rooney II and former coach Chuck Noll.
"I've ... heard people say, 'What are we gonna do, build a wing out here for all the Steelers from back then?' " said former linebacker Jack Ham, inducted in1988. "I wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame without L.C. and the work he did on the field. The fact that he isn't in there, too, has everything to do with politics."
Greenwood of Point Breeze is reticent to talk about it. "I know I have the stats," he said. "It's unfortunate."
While playing ball, Greenwood built a business and today remains president and owner of Greenwood Enterprises, an electrical supply, coal, natural gas and construction company. "I knew enough not to count on football to support me forever," he said.
Longtime business partner Jim McDonald of Washington calls Greenwood "patient, humble, cautious and quiet."
"What you see is what you get when it comes to L.C.," McDonald said.
As a member of the team that ignited Steeler Nation, Greenwood with his 6-foot-7 frame became recognizable off the field for his flashy clothes and on it for his gold Nike shoes, which he wore to distinguish himself from Greene for announcers.
"The announcers would be saying 'Joe Greene on the tackle,' but I had made the tackle," he said. When an ankle injury forced Greenwood to play in high-top shoes, he and equipment manager Tony Parisi decided to paint them gold, and his signature style was born. Nike paid NFL fines against the Steelers of $100 a game when he wore the non-regulation shoes.
Rise to fame
Greenwood's involvement in football began in an unlikely way.
Growing up in rural Canton, Miss., the oldest of nine children, he picked cotton from late August to early December, earning $2.50 for every 100 pounds. His mother, a homemaker, and father, a factory foreman, "wanted us doing positive things," Greenwood said.
"My old man was working his behind off, and it was my responsibility as the oldest to contribute," he said. "I did any odd job I could find."
His sister Annie Greenwood of Knoxville, Tenn., remembers walking to Rogers High School with him.
"The school was a mile away, and my parents wanted us to walk together, but L.C. would set out just 10 minutes before we had to be there, and he'd go striding with those long legs and make it with time to spare," she said. "I could barely keep up, but he wasn't waiting for me."
Greenwood played basketball and football at Rogers, and his father told him to choose one sport.
"I picked football because it was physical," Greenwood said. "It was a way for me to get out my aggression. My folks would leave home and I was in charge, and all my brothers and sisters would plot against me, and I couldn't fight back ... so I took it out on people on the football field."
During this sophomore year, Greenwood's coach refused to give him a jersey or let him play because "he said I didn't have the heart for the game."
A new coach gave him a second chance. By his senior year, Greenwood was named all-state. Other players talked about him when they traveled to Jackson to play the title game. "I was just playing football because it was fun," he said. "To me, it was a means to an end. I never dreamed of being in the NFL or playing professionally."
Though he saved money for college tuition, Greenwood attended Arkansas AM&N on a football scholarship. He intended to become a vocational education teacher.
In 1969, his senior year, Greenwood performed drills for Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry. "He had me do a 40-yard dash, and he pulled out a stopwatch. I didn't even know what it was because I'd never seen one. He said I did really well. A month later the draft started, and my coach said I'd get picked up. I was shocked."
Dallas passed on Greenwood in the first round because a doctor said a knee injury would keep him from playing. The Steelers drafted him in the 10th round.
"They said Steelers and I said, 'Who?' All of a sudden I'm in the NFL, and to that point I had seen exactly one pro football game on television: The Cowboys vs. the Redskins," he said.
That first season, Pittsburgh paid Greenwood $13,500, the league minimum. He taught a class at Braddock High School in the offseason.
Fast and aggressive, Greenwood used his size to bat down balls and sack quarterbacks.
"He was like a greyhound," said Greene, now the Steelers' special assistant for player personnel. "He would just zoom right past everyone on the field."
On Monday mornings after games, late Steelers announcer Myron Cope brought the players Downtown for "dress-offs." The '70s teams were "the most fashionable team in the league," Greenwood said. One Monday, Greenwood showed up wearing blue tights and a cape, certain that no one would best him.
Running back John "Frenchy" Fuqua did, wearing platform shoes with clear heels that contained water and fish he plucked from his home aquarium.
"That team really liked to have fun, and they liked to make fun of each other," said Art Rooney II. "L.C. had his own style, and he was a real character. Everyone loved being around him."
His flash is preserved in the L.C. Greenwood jewelry collection he created with Lenny Shaw, owner of L.S. Jewelers in Robinson -- pieces with black, gold and white diamonds that sell for $3,000 to $50,000. The store keeps a Hall of Fame petition for customers to sign.
"People have been very receptive," Shaw said.
Greenwood often plays golf in charity outings, wearing custom-made gold shoes. Several days a week he attends services at Bethany Baptist Church in Homewood. His two grown children, Chelsea and Fernando, live in Atlanta.
"In my life, God is first. Then my kids, then work, then golf," he said with an easy laugh. "That's how I roll."