When it comes to comparing Dallas Cowboys DT Randy White and Pittsburgh Steelers “Mean” Joe Green, I must admit some personal bias. I have great respect for Joe Greene’s rare football talent and his many accomplishments. By any standard of measurement, he was a truly legendary player. Greene was blessed with size, tremendous strength and a relentless desire to win. Despite my ability to respect Green despite playing for the rival Steelers, I’ve encountered several Greene supporters in cyberspace that lack the appropriate amount of respect for White. To many fans of Mean Joe, the mention of Randy White in the same sentence with him is an insult to them. I’ve seen many comments claiming that Randy White was “over-rated”. To that end, I must speak briefly.
Let’s begin by looking at the numbers. Greene played in 181 games over 13 seasons; White played in 209 games over 14 seasons, although White switched to defensive tackle from linebacker at the start of his third NFL season. Greene was voted to play in 10 Pro Bowls, received first-team All Pro nomination five times and received second-team All Pro nomination three times. White played in nine Pro Bowls and was named first-team All Pro nine times. Therefore, in 13 seasons at defensive tackle with the Steelers, Greene earned as many combined Pro Bowl and All Pro honors as White did with the Dallas Cowboys in 12 seasons at defensive tackle.
Over the course of their careers, Greene amassed 78.5 quarterback sacks; Randy White tallied 111 sacks. But comparing this statistic alone does not tell the entire picture. Greene lined up at left defensive tackle; White at right tackle. Historically, more left guards have earned Pro Bowl and All Pro honors than right guards. This has been true from the 1950s right up until the present. This trend is less obvious for offensive tackles, and only in the past two decades have the majority of award winning tackles played on the left side.
Of the greatest guards in NFL history, Jim Parker, John Hannah, Gene Upshaw, Randall McDaniel, Tom Mack, Ed Budde, Russ Grimm, Mike Munchak, Kent Hill, Steve Hutchinson, Alan Faneca, Steve Wisniewski and Larry Allen, all of them have all lined up on the left side. Bruce Matthews earned All Pro honors at both guard spots as well as at left tackle and center. With the Dallas Cowboys, White played against Hannah, arguably the greatest guard of all time, three times in the regular season and six more times in the Pro Bowl; Greene never faced Hannah. White routinely played against the best guards of his era. The two best guards Greene lined up against were Hall of Famers Larry Little of the Miami Dolphins and Joe DeLamielleure of the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns.
The mystique surrounding Greene to this day is so great that some believe he was completely unblockable and had to be constantly triple-teamed. This simply was not the case. He was a brilliant player, without question, but consider this: in eight career games in which he lined up against DeLamielleure, Greene had a combined 15 tackles less than two per game and two sacks. In Super Bowl X against the Cowboys, right guard Blaine Nye, despite weighing 252 pounds to Greene’s 275 pounds, blocked him without help for much, though not all, of the game. In Super Bowl XIII, the Dallas Cowboys alternated right guards Tom Rafferty and Burton Lawless, each weighing 253 pounds, and again the Cowboys spent much of the game with their guards blocking Greene without the benefit of a double team. Meanwhile, in Super Bowl XIII, the Steelers often doubled White with center Mike Webster or the guard would pass White to Webster in pass blocking schemes.
On another point of comparison, Randy White lined up off the line in a four-point stance, not directly over the guard the way Joe Greene did. Greene played in a more attacking style of defense, and he played with a vastly superior linebacking corps (both Jack Ham and Jack Lambert were future Hall of Famers). White played in a read-and-react, gap control defense with a good but unspectacular group of linebackers and less effective blitzers to take some of the pass blocking commitments by the offense off of him.
In 1978 the NFL changed pass blocking rules and outlawed the head slap used by defensive linemen. The head slap and other rule changes (including the one that allowed offensive linemen to fully extend their arms while pass blocking) tilted the field in favor of the offense. The Rams Deacon Jones, one of the greatest pass rushing ends in history, was famous for his head slap, which allowed him to get past the tackle and to the quarterback. White, who was even stronger than Jones or Greene, and who trained extensively in martial arts, did not have the benefit of the head slap at his disposal for almost his entire career as a Dallas Cowboys tackle, but Greene played nine of his 13 seasons under the old rules.
When all of these things are taken into consideration, those who say White is over-rated or not worthy of comparison to Greene fail to see how truly great White was and just how comparable to Greene as a player he was throughout his career.
I recall watching the 1979 Pro Bowl played in Los Angeles. The AFC featured on its offensive line New England Patriots left tackle Leon Gray, Hannah at left guard and Webster at center. The NFC defensive line featured future Hall of Famers Lee Roy Selmon of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jack Youngblood of the Rams at right defensive end and left defensive end, respectively, and White at right tackle. In those days there were blitz restrictions on passing downs. With White in the game, my eyes, as always, were fixed on him. And what I saw amazed me. The AFC squad showed White so much respect that even with Selmon and Youngblood flanking him, White was double-teamed by Hannah and Webster for most of the plays when he was on the field.
What most impressed me about Randy White was that in a meaningless All Star game where the winning team would go on to earn only $2500 more per man than the losing team, while going against two of the strongest and greatest offensive linemen of all time, White played every snap as if his team was protecting a three point lead in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Most guys would’ve just mailed it in that day. But White was not most guys. He played every snap as though it was his last.
Randy White had tremendous measurables and great talent, but his greatest asset was his heart: he had the heart of a lion. White was not just a Dallas Cowboys football player; he was a warrior and a gladiator on the gridiron. He was not only one of the greatest defensive linemen I have ever seen, he was also one of the greatest competitors I have ever seen.
Today, White still weighs 265 pounds and, at 60, is as solid as many men half his age. He continues to lift weights, although he does not throw up the kind of weight he did during his playing days. White watches his diet zealously, eats healthy, takes protein supplements and continues on in the practice of the martial arts. He no longer spars as he once did, but he will hit the Thai pads and he works with kali sticks in the style of the Filipino arts. Drills such as sombrada and sinawali build up speed, conditioning and movement to simulate combat conditions. Many who see White today claim he could probably still line up and play a few snaps.
Despite all of his fame and on-the-field accomplishments, White remains an unassuming, quiet man who would rather avoid the limelight. Since 1994 he has owned Randy White’s Hall of Fame Barbeque in Frisco, Texas. Locals can find him in there where he warmly greets people sitting in booths dedicated to Lilly, Walt Garrison and Roger Staubach.
If I’m ever in the Dallas area and have a taste for good ribs, I think I might drive over to Frisco and hope to see White there. I would call him Mr. White, but I am sure he would smile a little, curl up his mustache and say, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Just call me Randy.Ã¢â‚¬Â
If I could meet any of the great Dallas Cowboys players from the 1970s and 1990s dynasties, Randy White would be at the top of my list along with Roger Staubach. Who else but Captain ComebackÂ and the Manster?
Randy White video highlights:
[The author wishes to acknowledge two source materials, without which this story could not be told to the extent it is here. The first is an October 22, 1994 article by John Underwood that appeared in Sports Illustrated. The second is a March 4, 2013 interview of Randy White by Jim Steel, Strength Coach for the University of Pennsylvania, found at startingstrength.com.]