For the last four years on the night before the Super Bowl, former Steelers linebacker Kevin Greene sat in his hotel room along with his wife Tara and waited for a knock at the door. He kept his hopes up year after year, praying that it would be the year he was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
For four years, the knock never came.
His 12 year wait since his retirement, five of them as a finalist, ended when Hall of Fame President David Baker came knocking on his San Francisco hotel room door to give Greene the good news.
Greene will be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2016.
“It was surreal,” said Greene a few hours after he had heard the news, his heart still racing with excitement. “It was like I was in one of those crazy dreams and things were just happening around me. I didn’t even know what was going on. It was just amazing. I got that knock on the door, a really loud knock, and it was amazing.
“It was definitely emotional when I found out. David Baker, the president of the Hall of Fame, came and knocked on my door and congratulated me. I closed the door. Tara and I gathered (our daughter) Gabi and said a prayer as we were crying. That pretty much tells you where we were emotionally.
“It was really hard to visualize what it was going to be like. I had only known failure up until this. I prepared myself for another year of that, for not making it. I tried not to go all in because the crash would be that much harder if I did that. I didn’t venture in my mind what it was going to be like. It’s been a tremendous, wonderful experience.”
That knock on the door wiped away 12 years of waiting and wondering, 12 years of frustration, in one fell swoop.
“I know I have waited a while, but it doesn’t matter,” said Greene. “I am on a pretty cool team right now. I am one of 303 players, coaches and contributors in the Hall of Fame. The wait now is pretty much irrelevant.”
But on Saturday he got an incredible welcome from current Hall of Famers who came on stage at the NFL Honors show held in San Francisco when Greene and the other members of the class were introduced.
“That was unreal,” said Greene. “They weren’t just shaking my hand, but they were hugging me, and kissing me. I had a bunch of kisses on my cheek from Hall of Famers and I was kissing them back. They were loving on me. I opened my heart to all of the guys. They were saying congratulations.
“It was so emotional. They were so happy to see me make it. I was so happy to see all of them come up on stage. I must have kissed Franco Harris 10 times on his cheek. It’s all good. We are all brothers. We are all family now. It was cute and so cool. Everybody on the Hall of Fame team is one family. It’s just wonderful. I feel so much love. I feel so much respect to be a part of this team.”
Greene, who was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the fifth round in 1985, established himself as an elite pass rushing outside linebacker with the Rams, collecting 72 ½ sacks in eight seasons. When he became a free agent in 1993 he wanted to look elsewhere as the Rams had gotten away from the 3-4 defense he thrived in. He signed with the Steelers and during his three seasons with the Steelers (1993-95) he recorded 35 ½ sacks and resurrected his incredible career that ended with 160 career sacks.
“There is no way on God’s green earth that I would be here at this point of my life if it wasn’t for teammates like Rod Woodson, my hunting brother at linebacker Greg Lloyd, Levon Kirkland, Chad Brown, Jerry Olsavsky, Joel Steed, Darren Perry, and my brother Carnell Lake,” said Greene. “I could go on and on.
“And Steelers Nation, the fans that I loved to play for. The entire Steelers organization and Mr. (Dan) Rooney, who was so good to me, are all so special. I wouldn’t be here without those who invested in me and helped me along the way.
“I had eight really fine years with the Los Angeles Rams, but when I came to Pittsburgh, that organization, the coaching staff, the players I mentioned, they really kind of put me on the map. They put me on the stage. I am indebted to Steelers Nation. I hope they knew that when I was playing for them. I gave them everything I could, everything because that place meant so much. I played as hard as I possibly could for them. It was a joy playing for Steelers Nation. The Steelers are a huge part of where I am today.”