(Kevin Greene photos courtesy of Carolina Panthers & Pittsburgh Steelers)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
CANTON – When Hall-of-Fame baseball players enter Cooperstown they do so with a team designation. When Hall-of-Fame football players enter Canton, they don’t. But if they did …. if they had to enter the Hall as a member of one team … linebacker Kevin Greene knows which team it would be.
Though Greene spent as much time in Carolina as he did in Pittsburgh (three years) and had more sacks (41.5) with the Panthers than he did with the Steelers (35.5), it’s Pittsburgh that he believes defined him … and, OK, I hear what you’re saying.
What about the Rams?
Good question. He spent the first eight years of his career there and amassed 72.5 sacks there, or 45 percent of his career total of 160. But it’s not L.A., and it’s Carolina he thinks of when he talks about what made him a Hall-of-Fame player.
It’s Pittsburgh, where he joined linebackers Greg Lloyd, Levon Kirkland and Chad Brown in the “Blitz-burgh” defense.
“Well, I think most people really remember (me) at that time,” Greene said on the eve of his Hall-of-Fame induction. “For me, that was the time I really stepped up on the stage and started to become a game-changing playmaker, so to speak.
“I was a good player with the Rams, but I wasn’t really somebody they had to now account for. And that’s because I was surrounded by some great coaches and great players and great scheme (in Pittsburgh) that put me in a great position. So (opponents) had to account for me and Greg. When they tried to block us it was Levon and Chad Brown inside. So it really gave a lot of offenses fits trying to game-plan for all of us. All that just made me a better player, and I was able to make so many more plays as a Steeler.”
That’s because Dom Capers, then the Steelers’ defensive coordinator, and former head coach Bill Cowher returned Greene to his comfort zone – playing him as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. It was a perfect fit for a guy who in 1988-89 had successive seasons of 16.5 sacks each, and the impact was immediate. Greene had nearly as many sacks (12.5) in his first season with the Steelers as he did the previous two with the Rams (13).
“(I remember when) coach Cowher picked me up at the airport and drove me through the Fort Pitt tunnel,” he said, “and the city of Pittsburgh just jumped out. And (I was like), ‘Wow!’ It looked glorious to me as I drove through that Fort Pitt tunnel and came out on the other side. It was just awesome seeing that city and Three Rivers right there on the left hand side. And I’m like: Man, this is just so cool.
“And that, coupled with Dom Capers and Bill Cowher drawing it up on the board — basically saying, ‘We’re going to put you back in your old position where you’re used to playing and just let you go do what you do. And this is the guy on the other side, and his name is Greg Lloyd, and he’s already a Pro Bowl player.’ I was like, ‘I think we can play well together; I can play well in this defense.’
“I was a pure outside backer in a 3-4, and that was a 3-4 defense and blitz zone and all that stuff, so I just fit right in. All that … just to look at the city and the tradition and the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. They’re ass kickers, and winning all those Super Bowls. All that just combined to say: This is where I belong. This is where I need to be.”
And that is why when Kevin Greene thinks of himself as a football player, he thinks first of himself as a Pittsburgh Steeler — with Capers presenting him for Hall-of-Fame induction Saturday night.
“I think you’ve got to look at what put me on the map,” he said. “I don’t think my play in L.A. did, although I was with them eight years. I was a Pro Bowl player, but I was just a Pro Bowl alternate.
“When I went to Pittsburgh, I was All-Pro; I led the NFL in sacks; we won playoff games, championship games and (they) went to Super Bowls. I mean, that really started me to the latter half of my career. Then I went to Carolina, and I was All-Pro and led the NFL in sacks again. That’s just when it all started to kick in and come together … was in Pittsburgh.”