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Football coaches are a rigid bunch when it comes to practice, but University of San Diego coach Ron Caragher isn’t one to play the Bill Parcells role at the expense of a special moment for his players.

When he saw Mean Joe Greene, a Pro Football Hall-of-Fame defensive lineman from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Steel Curtain days, standing on the sidelines at practice Wednesday, he showed some flexibility.

Greene, a scout for the Steelers, was in town to size up USD senior quarterback Josh Johnson. He also asked questions about senior defensive end Eric Bakhtiari,

First, Caragher left the offensive drills to chat with Greene for a moment. Then he called his players over for an impromptu team huddle with Greene.

As the players trotted over, word spreading quickly. “Mean Joe Greene,” one would say in hushed tones to a player next to him who passed it on to the next player, saying, “Mean Joe Greene.”

It’s been 20 years since Greene was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but that’s the power of ESPN Classic replays with today’s generation that they knew him.

Jai Jai (my 19-month-old) with Mean Joe Greene at USD’s practice.

“I couldn’t pass up an opportunity for them to hear from a tremendous player, one of the greatest defensive linemen ever to play the game and a Hall-of-Famer,” Caragher said. “He had a great message; you only get so many opportunities to play this great game and it goes by fast so make the most of it. He talked about teamwork with your peers and that feeling of camaraderie. He also talked about how the Steelers expected to win. It wasn’t assuming or taken for granted; it was a confidence going into the game. I think that’s something our players have around here.”

USD plays Drake at 6 p.m. Saturday at Torero Stadium in a game that could decide both the Pioneer Football League title and mythical national title for Football Championship Subdivision non-scholarship schools. USD is 5-0 overall, 2-0 in the PFL and ranked No. 1 in the nation. Drake is 5-1 overall, 2-1 in the PFL and ranked No. 2.

— TOM SHANAHAN 

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