The Steeler Way. Defensive ends, part 1.

The Steeler Way: the evolution of the Good Guys series.

As a fairly new writer to this blog I’m evolving, hopefully in a good way. At Behind the Steel Curtain I morphed from “madanthonywayne” to “Steely Dan formerly known as madanthonywayne.” I now am known (to the extent I am known at all), as Roxanna Firehall.

Rox was on bye last week, refreshing his mind and tweaking this series. It seems to me that “Good Guys” should not be rated, as I have done in past articles. While we all have favorite players, the true purpose of these articles is to give exposure to Steeler players, past and present, who are good players, active in charitable work, successful in post-football pursuits, able to overcome challenging life situations or just plain good, interesting or entertaining fellows. Many of the Good Guys are notable for these accomplishments or virtues.

And so, as I travel down the road, I will still cover players by position, but I leave it to you to find your favorites. Besides, while looking at the defensive ends and the linebackers, it would be foolhardy for me to try to rank these fine men—all are remarkably and uniquely inspirational.

L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White.

This week and next, I’m covering defensive ends. Two of the greatest DEs in Steeler history played together for ten years.  They were colorfully known as Hollywood Bags and Mad Dog.

L.C. Greenwood — Hollywood Bags.  Surely, Hoolywood Bags  is one of the best nicknames ever.  Accounts as to how he got the tag vary. Some say it refers to the fashionable leather bags he favored, others say it refers to L.C.’s dream of an acting career after football. Whatever the origin, the name stuck.

The nickname stands in contrast to his life before the NFL. Bags was born and raised in Canton, Mississippi, the oldest of the nine children born to his parents, a factory foreman and a housewife. Greenwood’s world was racially segregated, the ruthless oppression of rural Mississippi in the Fifties and Sixties. As he told Gary Pomerantz:

“We didn’t have any relationship with the white people, and they had no relationship with us,” he said. “You knew not to go across the track unless you were working because the sheriff rode around with a shotgun rack in the back of his truck with loaded shotguns.”

As the eldest child, L.C.’s father expected him to perform a full list of chores, and when he got older, to help support the family. He worked picking cotton from August to December for $2.50 for each 100 lbs.

L.C. had an offer of a partial scholarship to go to Clark College to study pharmacy.  He dreamed of owning a corner drugstore in his hometown. Plans changed drastically with an offer of a full football scholarship to Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical & Normal College in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, a historically black college.

After a successful college football career, Greenwood was drafted in the tenth round by the Steelers.  He was signed by Bill Nunn, and was soon lining up next to Joe Greene on the defensive line. Two years later, Dwight White and Ernie Holmes came to Pittsburgh and the Steel Curtain was forged.

Although quiet by nature, Bags wanted to be noticed for his accomplishments. He had heard that Joe Greene was getting credit for a lot of his tackles by the announcers who called the game. In response, LC painted his high topped shoes gold so they could identify him correctly when he made a play. The NFL fined him $100 every game for his functional fashion, but Greenwood’s shoe company cheerfully covered the fines, as the notoriety was good advertising.  The gold shoes became his trademark, both on the field and later, on the golf course.

His personality was subdued, but his s wardrobe was not.  He became the chief rival of eccentric clothes horse Frenchy Fuqua. Frenchy could not be outdone, not with his capes, snap brim hats and platform shoes with goldfish in the heels. Nevertheless, Bags had plenty of pizazz, once appearing at one of Myron Cope’s dress-offs in a powder blue jumpsuit with white boots. Greenwood, at 6’6″ surely made an impression. The quiet but playful Greenwood once told a reporter his initials (which did not stand for anything) stood for “Love Cool.”

Hollywood Bags was never elected to the Hall of Fame, even though he made the Pro Bowl six times and started on all four Super Bowl teams. Joe Greene insists, in a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article, that Greenwood was “cheated, ” and he deserved HOF status. Dan Rooney agreed that L.C. should have been selected.  Many believe he was not elected because there are nine Steelers from the 1970s already in the Hall, not including Art and Dan Rooney and Chuck Noll.

After retirement from football due to knee injuries, L?C. started several successful businesses and was a lifetime member of the Screen Actors Guild and the NAACP.

Like Greenwood, Dwight White was a member of the legendary Steel Curtain, earning four Super Bowl rings. He played ten years in the NFL, all with the Steelers. He was known as “Mad Dog” for his high motor, both in the way he played and the way he ran his mouth. According to Greenwood, on the field “he NEVER shut up.” [Pomerantz, p. 143.]  With White and Ernie Holmes on the right side, the trash talking was dished by two masters.

Dwight was a gamer. In one of the most remarkable feats in Super Bowl history, he played almost all of Super Bowl IX despite spending most of the preceding week in the hospital with pneumonia. He lost 20 pounds during the illness, yet he scored the only points of the first half, sacking Fran Tarkenton in the end zone for a safety. The defense played lights out that day, holding the Vikings to 17 rushing yards on 20 attempts.

Gary Pomerantz, in his fine book “Their Life’s Work,” relates that White was wary of white folks, a result of the experiences of his youth in spent in the strict segregation of Texas in the 1950s and 60s. He was even leery of the Chief in his early years with the team.

Although White observed the Chief warily, he came to love and admire him. He saw how Art Rooney invited players for dinner at “940” (for 940 North Lincoln Avenue, the Rooney homestead for over seventy years and still the home of Dan Rooney). Dwight was a regular dinner guest of Art and his wife, Kass.  He saw how graciously he treated his black maid, Mary, sensing a good vibe.

Much later, he and the Chief ate at a Northside diner. Dwight was impressed that the owner would take the time to eat with just him alone.

When Dwight’s wife, Karen, was hospitalized with suspected Legionnaires Disease, Mr. Rooney visited her nearly every day. The Steeler Way exists because of the the life the Chief led—the way he raised his kids and inspired his players and coaches.

Dwight White made the most of his career on the field and after his retirement from the game. Dan Rooney called Dwight White one of the greatest players to ever play for the Steelers. White went on to a successful career as a financial manager.

Dwight’s obituary detailed his professional and philanthropic career:

Mr. White served as senior managing director of public finance for Mesirow Financial in Pittsburgh and was involved with numerous charities, including the Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, the Boy Scouts of America, PACE School and Rebuilding Pittsburgh. He was also a member of the board of trustees for Seton Hill University and was a board member of the Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh, a non-profit agency that serves people with vision loss.

Dwight and Karen White were co-chairpersons for a fund-raising campaign for the new August Wilson Center for African American culture. Their efforts raised $28 million for the construction of the center in Pittsburgh.

The members of the Steel Curtain remained very close through the years. The four of them, Greene, Greenwood, White and Holmes, made many joint appearances at autograph shows. They used those appearances as opportunities to catch up and socialize.

Pomerantz’s account of Dwight White’s last days gives a glimpse into the brotherhood of the Steel Curtain.

Greenwood sat at White’s bedside in the intensive care unit of a Pittsburgh hospital. “Hooomes,” White told him, dragging out the syllable, “I’m in a lot of pain.” White always called him Home Boy or Homes or Hollywood Bags or H.B., but to Greenwood this sounded more dire than ever before, and it scared him. As White groaned, and faded into and out of awareness, Greenwood encouraged his old teammate, kept talking softly to him, to be sure he felt his presence. A nurse appeared. “Can’t you give him something,” Greenwood pleaded in a whisper, “for the pain?” She did, and White chattered on for some time, the meaning of his words not entirely clear, until finally he eased quietly into his medication. Greenwood waited another ten minutes, watching over him, then left

.

[Pomerantz, p. 246.]

Dwight died of complications from surgery. He was only 58. LC died in 2013 of kidney failure. Dwight’s best friend on the Steelers, Joe Greene, is the sole remaining survivor of the Steel Curtain defensive line.

Dwight and L.C. were great football players.  Under the tutelage of the Rooneys and Chuck Noll, they and their teammates became champions, leaders, philanthropists and brothers.  The Steelers of the 1970s were the foundation for the Steeler Way which has grown and thrived and is still part of the fabric of the Pittsburgh community.

Next week, I’ll explore the heirs of the Steel Curtain—Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel and Cameron Heyward.

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