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Greene: "I hate to lose. It makes me ugly. You don't want to know me after we lose a game."

Greenwood: "If I have to intimidate, I can pound on a man's head the whole game."

Holmes: "I don't mind knocking somebody out. If I hear a moan and a groan coming from a player I've hit, the adrenaline flows within me. I get more energy and play harder."

For such huge men, the front four have exceptional speed. With hands the size of bear paws and thighs the thickness of a railroad tie, Joe Greene measures 6 ft. 4 in. and weighs 275 lbs. Even so, he drives through the 40-yd. dash in less than five seconds, as fast as many running backs. Dwight White (6 ft. 4 in., 255 lbs.) and Greenwood (6 ft. 6 in., 230 lbs.) are faster, and Holmes (6 ft. 3 in., 260 lbs.) is only a minisecond slower.

These reserves of strength and speed are harnessed in physical techniques used to bull past blockers. All four start with the head butt, driving their helmets into the heads of the opposite offensive linemen like bull moose battling for their lives. Once the offensive lineman has been hit, each man has a specialty. Greenwood likes to use the "slip" move, pushing past his blocker. White prefers to knock his opponent aside with an "uppercut" shove under the shoulder. Holmes is a master of the "club," using one of his blacksmith forearms to belt a blocker to the side, and the "push and pull," in which he pushes a guard off balance and then pulls him aside. Greene is an expert at all four techniques. "When Joe stomps you, it's not infuriating," says Steeler Center Ray Mansfield, who faces him in practice. "It's more like frightening. Did you ever see a dog get hold of a snake?"

The front four are so aggressive, in fact, that it sometimes works to their disadvantage. Offensive plays that capitalize on a hard defensive rush have gained yardage against the Steelers this year. Screen passes, for example, are designed to lure pass rushers toward the quarterback, who then dumps the ball to a runner waiting a few yards downfield.

Of the front four, Ernie Holmes is the most volatile, living and playing precariously close to the edge of rage. "I don't know what my life is," he says, "except there is something pounding in back of my head."

Nearly three years ago, his marriage broke up, depriving Holmes of two adored sons. Driving through eastern Ohio after leaving them, he started firing a pistol at trucks. Before he was stopped, Holmes shot at a police helicopter and wounded a cop during a chase through woods. "Three trucks tried to drive me off the road," he says. "It was all I needed to snap."

He pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon. After the Steelers promised to provide help for him, he was placed on five years' probation. Holmes spent two months in a psychiatric hospital. "I was considered stone crazy until the Super Bowl last year," he says. "Now I'm back on the bases."

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