The man known as Just Plain Nasty steps into the players' lounge
at Three Rivers Stadium and steps out of character. He shuts the
door behind him, removes his sinister-looking sunglasses and
lets his guard down. "See, I didn't even know I said anything,"
Greg Lloyd says. "They had to tell me what I said."
Lloyd, the Pittsburgh Steelers' five-time Pro Bowl outside
linebacker, was referring to his nationally televised faux pas
after the Steelers had beaten the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 14.
He was passing the AFC championship trophy to team owner Dan
Rooney when he suffered a tiny lapse in judgment.
"This thing belongs to Mr. Rooney," Lloyd announced to everyone
in the Steelers' dressing room--and to a national television
audience. "Let's see if we can bring this damn thing back here
next year, along with the f--- Super Bowl!"
(One commercial you won't see in 1996: "Greg Lloyd, you just won
Super Bowl XXX; what are you going to do now?"
January 29, 1996
"I'm going to f--- Disney World!")
Stretched out on a couch in the lounge, Lloyd skims the story
that this day's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has devoted to his
blooper: LLOYD TURNS HEADS WITH XXX-RATED REMARK. Beneath that
article is a smaller one, headlined: MALL SET FOR BLITZ BY SUPER
STEELER. That night Lloyd would spend a couple hours
autographing team calendars to benefit a football camp for deaf
children. The stories neatly delineated the two sides of Lloyd:
the Prince of Darkness and the prince. The latter is a devoted
husband and father of three who contributes a lot of time and
money to charitable causes, the former a snarling headhunter who
admits that when he hits a quarterback, his aim is "to take his
ass out of the game."
At 6'2", 226 pounds, Lloyd is at once one of the most undersized
linebackers and one of the most feared players in the NFL. He
bench-presses 470 pounds, runs the 40 in 4.52 seconds and has a
second-degree black belt in taekwondo. Lloyd had 116 tackles and
6 1/2 sacks during the regular season. He excels as an all-around
player, moving to inside linebacker and dropping into coverage
on passing downs.
While injured cornerback Rod Woodson has always been regarded as
the best player on the Steelers' defense, Lloyd has emerged as
the spiritual leader of the unit. His personality dominates the
Pittsburgh dressing room, and he's the one present-day Steeler
who is reminiscent of the mayhem-making Steel Curtain defenders
of the '70s. "No question," says Rooney, with a smile, "he would
have fit right in with those guys."
Lloyd, 30, speaks reverently of those Steelers teams that won
four Super Bowls. "Jack Lambert, Joe Greene, Dwight White, Ernie
Holmes--they played football then," he says. "All the rule
changes weren't in effect then. Now the NFL wants it to be PBS.
They want to protect the quarterback, but I'm not into it. It's
a violent game, and I'm going to play it the way it's intended
to be played."
If Lloyd isn't the meanest dude in the league, Green Bay Packers
quarterback Brett Favre doesn't want to meet the guy who is.
Lloyd blindsided Favre and knocked him out of a preseason game
last August, giving the quarterback a concussion. "It was as if
Favre had stepped on a land mine," says Steelers running back
Fred McAfee. Even though no flag was thrown after the hit, Lloyd
was later slapped with a $12,000 fine, the biggest in NFL history.
Lloyd still bristles at being fined so heavily, just as he fumes
over what he considers the league's hypocrisy. "Come to a game
early and watch the Jumbotron scoreboard," he says. "You'll see
'NFL's Greatest Hits,' with guys getting their helmets ripped
off and [former Miami Dolphin] Nat Moore getting hit so hard he
spins around like a helicopter. They're marketing that. Then I
go and put a hit on a guy, and no flag is thrown. The ref says,
'That was a pretty damn good hit,' and the league says, 'We're
going to fine you $12,000.'"
("I see his point," says Gene Washington, who doles out fines in
his capacity as the NFL's director of football development. But,
Washington adds, rules protecting the quarterback were enacted
in recent seasons, whereas "some of these videos have been on
the market five, six years. We can't go out and reclaim all of
Lloyd abhors quarterbacks, isn't fond of league officials and
doesn't care for reporters. (He has refused most interview
requests since an uproar arose in September after he was quoted
by a local paper, falsely he insists, as saying that in the
Steelers' upcoming game with the Miami Dolphins he would knock
quarterback Dan Marino "into next week.") He is also annoyed by
autograph seekers who, he says, "don't ask the right way." On
game day he can frequently be seen shouting at teammates and
arguing with coaches. Steelers executives are not immune to his
tirades. You consider all the energy Lloyd expends on anger, and
you wonder, Who sneezed in this guy's corn flakes? What made
Greg Lloyd so mad?
For starters, he never met his father. At age two Lloyd and five
of his eight siblings were driven by their mother from Miami to
Fort Valley, Ga., and dropped at the home of an aunt, Bertha Mae
Rumph. For good.
There were 10 kids in all in Rumph's two-bedroom apartment.
Throughout the seventh grade Lloyd wore the same shirt and pants
every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday he
wore his other outfit. "If you got anything dirty on Monday, you
came to school with the same dirty clothes the next day," he
remembers. "The other kids would say, 'You're stinky--you stink.'
So that taught me humility."
Lloyd fought with rednecks and with anyone who teased him about
his parents' not being around. "Back then, all you had to say to
me was 'Your Mama,' and I was going to fight," he says.
Lloyd started playing football at age six. "It was a way to
vent," he says. His first coach was a preacher named Billy
Powell, who on the first day of practice knelt and had players
run at him, one at a time. "He wanted to see who could hit,"
says Lloyd. "I knocked him over."
In high school Lloyd was a starter at fullback and linebacker.
In his senior year he was ejected from a game for breaking an
opposing quarterback's leg. After graduating, Lloyd accepted a
football scholarship to Fort Valley State, a Division II
college, where he was all-conference three times. Coach Doug
Porter often held him out of noncontact drills. "Noncontact
wasn't in his vocabulary," says Porter.
Lloyd earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in
four years at Fort Valley. Football scholarship or no, he was
bound to make something of himself--Bertha Mae Rumph would see
to that. Whenever he misbehaved in elementary school, she
whipped him with an extension cord. Says Lloyd, "It didn't take
a lot of those before you got yourself together."
As a result Lloyd has felt compelled to teach some of his
teammates about priorities. If a Steeler nods off in a meeting
or giggles on the practice field, Lloyd gets in his face, just
as he did with his Fort Valley teammates. As Porter recalls,
"The players tended to listen to Greg. He was not bashful about
backing up his admonitions."
He wasn't bashful, period. In his trigonometry class his
freshman year was a beautiful, brainy Midwesterner named Rhonda
Simmons. The school paper had run a story about her because, at
15, she had been named to the board of the NAACP. Lloyd made it
his business to befriend her; they were married in 1988. "It's
gotten better every year," says Lloyd. "We have three wonderful
kids [Greg, 6; Tiana, 3; and Jhames, eight months]. It's been a
blessing all around."
Lloyd was not invited to the NFL scouting combine after his
senior season. However, he did play in the Heritage Bowl, which
at the time was an all-star game featuring players from
traditionally black colleges. When Steelers scouts watched a
videotape of the game, they could not help noticing the
linebacker who made plays from sideline-to-sideline, intercepted
a pass and exhibited a bit of a mean streak. Tom Donahoe, then a
scout and now the team's director of football operations, flew
to Atlanta, drove the 2 1/2 hours to Fort Valley, worked out
Lloyd and returned to Pittsburgh impressed. The Steelers took
Lloyd in the sixth round of the '87 draft.
Lloyd's pro career was almost over before it started. He blew
out his right knee in training camp, rehabbed maniacally,
returned a year later and then injured his left knee. He missed
the first seven weeks of the '88 season. In his first NFL game
he was ejected for punching Denver Broncos backup quarterback
How appropriate. A recurring theme in Lloyd's otherwise
brilliant playing career has been his consuming need to inflict
pain on quarterbacks, the consequences be damned. In December
1989 he knocked the New York Jets' Pat Ryan out of a game. No
penalty was called, but Lloyd was fined $2,000. In '91 Joe
Namath, while working as an analyst for NBC, criticized Lloyd
for a late hit against Seattle Seahawks quarterback Dave Krieg.
"Joe Namath can go to hell, he can kiss Greg's ass," replied
Nevertheless, Lloyd has directed some of his most heated
invective at his teammates. Until this season he often
criticized the Steelers' inconsistent offense. Although he says
his intention was to motivate, he more often created a division.
Lloyd the orator has shown signs of maturing. "Two years ago
he'd rant and rave, and not a lot of people would listen to
him," says Pittsburgh inside linebacker Jerry Olsavsky. "This
year he's called the team together and said some stuff that's
really made us think. He's really become a leader."
The turning point came after Pittsburgh kicker Norm Johnson's
24-yard field goal beat the Chicago Bears in overtime on Nov. 5.
Temporarily misplacing his machismo, Lloyd found Pittsburgh
quarterback Neil O'Donnell and bear-hugged him. That embrace was
regarded as Lloyd's way of "making up" with the offense.
"People read too much into that," says Lloyd, still sitting on a
couch in the players' lounge. "That was just me telling Neil
he'd played a great game." If you didn't know better, you would
think Lloyd was concerned that people might think he was
He returns to the subject of his nationally televised expletive,
blaming NBC for not halting its coverage when he asked it to.
After all, he argues, what's said in the dressing room should
stay there. The thought of all those viewers standing in
judgment of him has begun to make him--what else?--angry. "They
can think what they want," he says. "Just don't come up and say
---- to me about it."
He says people in Pittsburgh are always probing him for some
flaw. "The thing about it is, Pittsburgh wants to know me and I
never let them know me," Lloyd says. "You can know all you want
about number 95, but you don't get to know Greg. That's private."
A few minutes later, without warning, he stands, puts on his
sunglasses, declares the interview over and walks out of the
room. He is Just Plain Nasty again.