His playing career began with the Los Angeles Rams and came to a close 15 years later with the Carolina Panthers.
But in between there were three seasons that Greene looks back on fondly. Three seasons that resurrected a career that was starting to take a turn in a direction that didn’t excite him. Three seasons that the finalist for the Hall of Fame Class of 2016 enjoyed every minute of.
It was the 1993-95 seasons, his three seasons with the Steelers.
“I knew I was a pure bred outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense,” said Greene. “I knew I could rush the passer. I knew I could drop in coverage. I knew I could play the run. The Rams got away from that my last few years there in 1991 and 1992.”
The Steelers, though, ran a true 3-4 defensive scheme and Greene was a player they set their sights on after they didn't match an offer to outside linebacker Jerrol Williams, a restricted free agent who then signed with the San Diego Chargers. It was a match made in heaven.
“I knew for me to have fun playing football I needed to find a team that ran the 3-4 defense we were running with the Los Angeles Rams previously that I had a lot of success being an outside linebacker in,” said Greene this week from San Francisco, in town waiting for the announcement of the Class of 2016 on Saturday night. “It just so happened the Lord was orchestrating our steps.
“I remember I flew into Pittsburgh and Coach (Bill) Cowher picked me up at the airport. We came through the Ft. Pitt Tunnel and it was amazing, just the City of Pittsburgh jumping out at me. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so cool.’ The city was phenomenal. Then I went in and met with Coach Cowher and Coach Dom (Capers) and they showed me the scheme on the board. I knew immediately this is where I needed to be. They ran the same system that I had a lot of success in. It was great to be back in the position to make game-changing plays, be a playmaker and do things to directly impact the outcome of the game.”
There is no doubt, Greene impacted the outcome of games time and time again while wearing the black and gold. During his three seasons he recorded 35 ½ sacks, the most by a player in their first three seasons with the Steelers since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. He was a game changer, a player who brought passion on and off the field.
“They rushed the passer every play,” said Greene of Smith and White. “They were defensive ends. I was an outside linebacker. I had to drop. Despite what people might think, I dropped in coverage a lot. I was able to be a complete player. That is what you had to be as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 system.”
This is the fifth year Greene is a finalist for the Hall of Fame, the fifth year he will await word on his fate in a hotel room in the Super Bowl city, hoping for a knock on the door from Hall of Fame President David Baker and not a phone call delivering bad news.
It’s been a tough five years, especially for a player who has been eligible for enshrinement for 12 years, and despite having the numbers and career that make him deserving of it, still hasn’t taken the final step.
“I think it’s been confusing more than anything,” said Greene. “I do remain optimistic that this will happen. I am sure hopeful the voters see fit to finally put me in. I think I have waited the longest of anybody on the final 15 list and I don’t understand why.”
Greene paused for a moment as fans outside the restaurant where he was about to go have lunch stopped him and wished him luck, letting him know he deserved to be in the Hall of Fame. He thanked them, genuinely hoping that the voters agree.
“I have been here before,” said Greene. “I try to keep my hopes under control. It’s not a good feeling when you don’t get a knock on the door. You just get a call on the phone and they say better luck next year, but come on down and congratulate the others. You do that. It’s hard.
“Failure, I have never done really well with failure.”
Kevin Greene deserves to find Hall of Fame success this year.