Looking back at a century of Mean Green

Looking back at a century of Mean Green

Looking back at a century of Mean Green
September 05
11:55 2013

Ehsan Azad / Staff Writer

As UNT celebrates its 100th year of football this season, fans embrace the past of the Mean Green football team.

Littered with wins, losses and myths over nicknames, the program has a colorful past that helps build intrigue for the current fan base.

Mean Green means…?

For years, fans of UNT athletics have debated on how the Mean Green nickname started. Many of the myths link NFL Hall of Fame player and UNT alumnus “Mean” Joe Greene as the inspiration for the name.

“The term Mean Green was first mentioned on the record by Sidney Sue Graham, wife of the Sports Information Director Fred Graham, in the era of Joe Greene,” said Bill Mercer, UNT football’s play-by-play man for more than thirty years. “But her thought [behind the nickname] was the Mean Green defense.”

Mercer said Graham used the nickname in a press release and it proceeded to catch on with the media.

“It should be referred to as Eagle football, but I lost that fight a long time ago,” Mercer said.

According to an article published in 2004 by UNT alumni magazine the North Texan, writer Rufus Coleman detailed another myth on the nickname’s mysterious creation.

Legend has it former Mean Green basketball players Willie Davis and Ira Daniels were drinking wine during halftime of a UNT football game. When they entered Fouts Field, they were upset with how the fans were not cheering on their team.

“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,’” Davis said in Coleman’s article.

The rest of the crowd went along and the two men claim they are the original creators of the now famous nickname. While the debate continues on who really created the nickname, it’s still one of the biggest features of the athletic program here at UNT.

The good old days

Another big historical component of the program is its history of winning games.

Despite recent struggles, the Mean Green enjoyed a successful program in the early years. Football began in Denton in 1913 with the North Texas Eagles losing 13-0 in its first game to Texas Christian University.

Starting in 1923, the Mean Green won eight of the next 13 league championships and played in two bowl games, including the now defunct Salad Bowl.

UNT was a powerhouse in the late 1950s when Odus Mitchell, the Mean Green’s winningest head football coach, won 10 conference titles during his tenure with the squad.

In 1973, the tradition of success continued as Hayden Fry became the second all-time winning head coach in school history. In the Sun Belt Conference, UNT went to four straight appearances at the New Orleans Bowl, including the 24-19 win over Cincinnati University in 2002.

Looking forward

The history is deep with the former players that donned the Mean Green uniform over the last 100 years. The program has produced successful NFL players like long-time Kansas City Chief offensive lineman Brian Waters and the previously mentioned Greene.

Even players who didn’t go to the NFL have the lasting memories of their college careers.

“I was starting against the Longhorns in 2006,” former quarterback Matt Phillips said. “[My favorite moment was] being a true sophomore going out there and competing against Colt McCoy and the Longhorns.”

Phillips, who played for the Mean Green from 2005 to 2008, thinks that with the competitive past UNT has, the future is bright for the program.

“In the next 100 years, we will be competitive [throughout],” Phillips said. “Going into the new Conference USA definitely will help the talent coming here at the University of North Texas.”

The current squad welcomes the past and hopes the celebration will help steer them in the right direction this year.

“Anytime you’re at a university celebrating 100 years [of football] and you are a part of it, that gets you very excited,” head coach Dan McCarney said.

The Mean Green will continue their 100th year campaign as they face the University of Ohio in Athens, Ohio this Saturday.

The game kicks off at 7 p.m. and can be streamed from ESPN3.

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