By RossWB on September 15, 2017 at 4:42 pm
Mean and Green
University of North Texas

Ahead of tomorrow's game with North Texas, there's one question that eats away at us and is giving us sleepless nights. It's not whether the Iowa defense will play better than they did against Iowa State. It's not whether the offensive line will show some much-needed signs of consistency. It's not whether the "Curse of the Double-Digit Favorite" will rear its ugly head again. It's not even whether everyone in Kinnick is going to melt tomorrow (stay hydrated, folks). 

No, the question that's been gnawing at our brains all week is this: What the heck is (are) a (the) Mean Green? Why did Saturday's foe adopt a nickname suggesting that they are... an unpleasant color? The alliteration of "Mean Green" is nice, but still -- it's weird. Their logo features an eagle: 

North Texas logo

Their mascot (currently named "Scrappy") is also an eagle (or at least a man in an eagle costume -- although they used to have a live eagle mascot, occasionally with tragic results): 


(via North Texas)

So why aren't they the North Texas Eagles? Or perhaps the North Texas Green Eagles (a creature that does not exist in nature, but let's not get hung up on biological technicalities here)? Why are they instead the "Mean Green"? As it happens, it's a somewhat recent development for North Texas, as their website explains

What initially started in the 1960s as a moniker for the defensive unit on the North Texas football team -- inspired by the squad's standout defensive end from 1966-68, NFL Hall of Famer Joe Greene -- it has since evolved into the school's accepted name for nearly all of its athletic programs.

So there we have it: it's all about "Mean" Joe Greene, a former star at North Texas (and later the focal point of the Pittsburgh Steelers' "Steel Curtain" defense that produced four Super Bowl championships). It's wild to think that one player could inspire a school to change their nickname like that; it's a bit like Iowa deciding to re-brand as the Iowa Kinnicks in honor of Nile's greatness. Then again, Joe Greene was an incredible player -- and "Mean (Joe) Green(e)" is a pretty great nickname, too (even if he didn't really like it himself).

But wait! While the university itself claims the name began as a nickname for the defense that was inspired by the presence of Joe Greene, The North Texan suggests some alternative origin stories for this unusual sobriquet. In one version, a pair of North Texas basketball players got the ball rolling on the "Mean Green" expression: 

"Of course North Texas was beating someone in football, and we were very avid supporters of the other athletics programs there — everybody supported everybody," he says. "Ira Daniels wasn't satisfied with the cheers, so he got up and started saying to the rest of us, the students sitting in this section, 'Mean Green, you look so good to me,' and we'd say, 'Mean Green.'" ...

"After that we did it every game," Davis says. "A lot of people later on started associating it with Joe because his last name was Greene, but it actually started with that simple chant that Saturday night at Fouts Field. And that's the truth."

In another version, a different spectator introduced the nickname -- Sidney Sue Graham, the wife of North Texas' then-sports information director: 

A different Mean Green story also originates at a North Texas football game in the '60s, one that featured a "spectacular tackle" by Joe Greene.

"That's the way, Mean Greene!" were the words of Sidney Sue Graham ('57), wife of Fred Graham ('57), then the university's sports information director.

"It was merely a spontaneous cheer for an impressive play, but moments later the light bulb went off," she recalls. "I'd been thinking we needed a nickname. All the other really strong defensive units in the country had one."

So she mentally removed the "e" to make "Mean Green" apply to the entire defense.

That version of the origin seems to align fairly well with North Texas' officially proffered version, actually. Joe Greene makes a big play --> fans cheer for "Mean (Joe) Greene" --> transforms into "Mean Green" to refer to entire defense --> eventually applies to entire team, and then all North Texas sports teams. 

Whatever the true origin of the name, it's undeniably unique. In a world overflowing with Tigers, Wildcats, Bears, Hawks, and many others oft-used nicknames, a little originality is a welcome change. And they've certainly had far worse nicknames in days gone by -- they went by "The Normalites" and "The Normal Boys" in the early 20th century. Mean Green it is. 

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