Ex-Steelers defensive great L.C. Greenwood dies
Like several of his former Steelers teammates, L.C. Greenwood stepped from small-college obscurity into greatness on the big stage.
A defensive end, he was a 10th-round draft pick out of Arkansas AM&N, now Arkansas-Pine Bluff, in 1969. The Dallas Cowboys reportedly passed on drafting him because of an earlier knee injury. By the time Greenwood retired after the 1981 season, he had etched himself in lore as a member of the vaunted Steel Curtain defense, helping forge a dynasty in which the Steelers won four Super Bowls during six seasons in the 1970s.
Shortly before noon Sunday, Greenwood died of kidney failure, according to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office. He was 67.
L.C. Greenwood had back surgery at UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland on Sept. 13 and remained hospitalized. Greenwood, who lived in Point Breeze, told people he’d had 21 back operations.
“He had real bad back pain for several years,” his sister Shelly Greenwood said. “He had several operations in Florida, and they didn’t do any good. He had the operation (in Pittsburgh), and a couple of days after, he had a setback and we almost lost him. But then he did pretty good until (Saturday) night.”
She said another sister, Annie Greenwood, told her their brother “slept all day (Saturday)” and that “something was wrong.”
Robert Morris assistant head football coach John Banaszak said he saw Greenwood, a friend and former teammate, about six weeks ago.
“He was in a walker,” Banaszak said. “He was hoping this would be the answer to his problems.”
A statement by Steelers chairman Dan Rooney and president Art Rooney II called Greenwood “one of the most beloved Steelers during the most successful period in team history.”
“He will be missed by the entire organization,” the statement continued. “He will be forever remembered for what he meant to the Steelers both on and off the field.”
After the Steelers lost to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday in London, safety Troy Polamalu said, “The Curtain guys, we would look up to them. They left bigger shoes for us to fill than at any time on any team in the NFL.”
Shelly Greenwood said there will be a “service” in Pittsburgh and then “they’re going to bring him home. He wanted to be buried at home.”
The oldest of nine children, Greenwood was born Sept. 8, 1946, in Canton, Miss. Coincidentally, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is in Canton, Ohio, where he longed to be enshrined. Others lobbied for him, circulated petitions and started a Facebook page. But it didn’t happen. The assumed reason was that the Steelers already are well-represented by nine of his teammates, former coach Chuck Noll and two members of the Rooney family.
A Steel Curtain linemate, Hall of Fame defensive tackle Joe Greene, told the Tribune-Review in 2011, “I don’t know what my career would have been without him. He should absolutely be in the Hall of Fame. Bottom line, he’s being cheated.”
Greenwood told the Trib that year, “I know I have the stats. It’s unfortunate.”
A six-time Pro Bowl selection and twice an All-Pro, Greenwood registered 73 1⁄2 career sacks, which ranks second in franchise history behind Jason Gildon. The total is unofficial, however, because the National Football League did not record sacks until 1982.
Banaszak, a defensive tackle, was a rookie in 1975 when, he said, Greenwood took him under his wing.
“He was one of the first guys to accept me,” he said. “He helped me make the football team. I always told him I was grateful for that help.”
At 6 feet 6 inches tall and 245 pounds, Greenwood was a towering presence. Pete Rozelle, the late NFL commissioner, liked to recall when it was announced during the final round of an NFL draft that “Minnesota passes,” a fan yelled, “And L.C. Greenwood knocks it down!”
Banaszak remembered defensive line coach George Perles warning young players not to watch Greenwood “because none of you can play that way.”
“That was absolutely true,” Banaszak said. “He was long. He was quick. He was just a great football player. He absolutely belongs in the Hall of Fame.”
Greenwood was involved in several businesses after he retired and remained active in community organizations. He was owner and president of Greenwood Enterprises, an electrical supply, coal, natural gas and construction company.
“I lost my best friend. He was like a brother to me,” said his longtime business partner, Jim McDonald of Washington. “We’ve been in business since ’73, never had one argument.”
Survivors include his children, Chelsea Greenwood and Fernando Greenwood; sisters Shelly Greenwood, Annie Greenwood, Goffan Greenwood Simmons, Katie Greenwood Young and Janice Greenwood Aderhold; brothers Moses Greenwood Jr., Henry Greenwood and Michael Greenwood; and two grandchildren.
The Steelers of the ’70s mined talent from unlikely places, and nowhere was that more in evidence than on the defensive line. The other three members of the original Steel Curtain also came from small schools — Greene from North Texas State, Ernie Holmes from Texas Southern and Dwight White from East Texas State.
Only Greene is left of the original Steel Curtain. Ernie Holmes known as “Fats,” was 59 when he died in an auto accident in January 2008. The deaths of White, who was called “Mad Dog,” and Greenwood were eerily similar. Dwight White died at 58 that June in a Pittsburgh hospital in June 2008 of a blood clot in his lung a few weeks after undergoing back surgery.
Like his linemates, Greenwood had a nickname, “Hollywood Bags.” But he was probably better known for his distinctive gold shoes.According to his website, the shoes came about after he suffered an ankle injury in 1973 and was told to wear high tops. Greenwood looked at the black shoes he was given and pronounced them ugly. Steelers equipment trainer Tony Parisi offered to paint them white, but Greenwood rejected the idea because New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath wore white shoes. Parisi instead painted them gold. Nike the maker of the shoes, paid a $100 fine every time he wore them in a game.