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"Mean" Joe Greene told Ben Roethlisberger to 'play like a Steeler' his rookie year

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Greene embodied a level of toughness that exceeded even his tremendous talents. That's the message he sent to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in his rookie season back in 2004.

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Tribune Review columnist Rob Rossi has a great column summarizing the Man of Honor today, "Mean" Joe Greene. One quip in particular stands out.

"Seeing him was like seeing those Super Bowl trophies in the flesh," Roethlisberger said, as written by Rossi. "I was in awe. It was jaw-dropping. I thought he could still play. He looked like it. His handshake felt like it."

Greene told Roethlisberger to "play like a Steeler."

"I took it to mean, ‘Play tough,' " Roethlisberger said.

If the retiring of Greene's jersey should bring out anything tonight, as the Steelers take on their rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, it's that toughness. Greene defined toughness on the field. Not just playing through injuries, but battling and competing.

The Steelers barely competed against the Ravens in Week 2. Poor execution, sloppy tackling, turnovers, it was one of the poorest games in recent memory. On one hand, it's easy to assume the team is different now. The defense has been steadily improving and, while it's not statistically among the best in the game, it's not one mired in the bottom-third of the league, either.

"Playing tough," as Roethlisberger said, is one thing. Having the discipline and intestinal fortitude to stand one's ground and battle one's adversary straight up is more critical and more indicative of a winner vs. a loser. Greene embodied that kind of mentality. It was easy enough for him, considering how good of a player he was, but lots of "good" players have set foot on an NFL field. None have had the kind of success Greene did. The reason he was as good as he was is because of that level of mental toughness.

I would imagine Greene will deliver some kind of locker room speech before the game, and it's very likely the message will be something along those lines.

"Play like a Steeler."