He wasn't drafted by the franchise, and relative to his 15-year NFL career, he played just a short time in Pittsburgh. But in many ways, Kevin Greene belonged with the Steelers, and Pittsburgh was the perfect place for him.
Greene, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Steelers Hall of Honor, died on Monday, Dec. 21. He was 58.
"We lost an amazing player and person this morning with the passing of Kevin Greene," Steelers President Art Rooney II said via a statement on Monday. "His sudden death is a shock to us all as he was a close friend and teammate to so many people in the Steelers family.
"When Kevin came to the Steelers in 1993, he had an immediate impact. Paired with Greg Lloyd (as outside linebackers), Kevin and Greg led a defense that became known as Blitzburgh and went on to play in Super Bowl XXX. Kevin's energy and enthusiasm were inspiring for our team as well as our fans.
"My condolences go out to Kevin's wife, Tara, their children and the entire Greene family in this most difficult time. They will always be members of the Steelers family and in our thoughts and prayers."
Originally a fifth-round draft choice from Auburn by the Los Angeles Rams in 1985, Greene didn't take long to establish himself as an elite pass rushing outside linebacker, with 72.5 sacks over his first eight NFL seasons. But when the Rams' switch to a 4-3 alignment coincided with free agency coming to the NFL, circumstances found Greene looking elsewhere to continue his football career.
Coincidently, the Steelers happened to be in the market for an outside linebacker with Greene's unique skill-set at that time. Jerrol Williams, a starting outside linebacker opposite Greg Lloyd in 1992, signed an offer sheet with San Diego that the Steelers declined to match because it included guaranteed salary. The Steelers responded by signing Greene, and the franchise that rode the Steel Curtain to four Super Bowls over a six-season span of the 1970s was on the way to constructing another nicknamed defense.
"He had such a will to inflict a sack on the quarterback," Jerry Olsavsky, a Steelers inside linebacker from 1989-97 and now the team's inside linebackers coach, said at the time of Greene's enshrinement in Canton. "Back in 1993 when Kevin showed up here, that was his main goal. He would always say, 'I have to get to the quarterback.' He would remind you, 'I have to get to the quarterback.' It was a running play and he would still say, 'I have to get to the quarterback,' and we would tell him it's a running play.
"It was great because that's what he had to do. That carried over to everyone, Greg (Lloyd), Levon (Kirkland), me, and Chad (Brown). Just the history of linebackers, having a guy like that always wanting a sack was great. We are all held to a standard. He held everyone on the defense to the standard, and you had to live up to it or you would hear about it."
During his three seasons with the Steelers (1993-95), Greene recorded 35.5 sacks, the second most by a player in his first three seasons with the Steelers since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. He finished his career in Carolina with the Panthers (1996, 1998-99) and then in San Francisco with the 49ers (1997).
"He is a special man who was a great player, but an even better person. It is very sad losing a legendary person," said former Steelers coach Bill Cowher on Westwood One on Monday. "When we got him, the first year of free agency (in the NFL), he was coming from the Rams and played a 3-4 defense out there. We had Greg Lloyd but needed a guy on the other side. When we were recruiting him, we talked more about the opportunity. We took him in and told him you and Greg Lloyd are the bookends of something special. Him and Greg Lloyd were so special to our football team and represented everything we were about."
Greene finished his career with 160 sacks, 26 fumble recoveries, five interceptions, and he recorded three safeties. He had double-digit sacks 10 times in his 15 seasons, and he led the NFL in sacks in 1994 (14.0) and 1996 (14.5). He was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1990s. He was a three-time first-team All-Pro (1989, 1994, 1996) and a five-time Pro Bowl selection (1989, 1994-96 and 1998).
"I found myself in the right place at the right time in the football universe," said Greene during his Hall of Fame speech. "I would never experience anything quite like being a Steeler. Playing in front of Steelers Nation and feeding off that energy, I believed in my heart, I was unblockable.
"It was definitely a turning point for me. I spent eight years with the Los Angeles Rams, and I was a decent player. I was a Pro Bowl player, but I wasn't a next level player. Not until 1993, that first year of free agency, when I signed with the Steelers and (became a part of) that 3-4 pressure scheme we played there, Blitzburgh. It just put it on a different level, on a different stage than I had been on the previous eight years. It started me on a tear in the NFL for the remainder of my career."
Greene entered the Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2016; and he was enshrined on Aug. 6, 2016 after waiting 12 years from the time he retired. Greene was also an inaugural member of the Steelers Hall of Honor Class of 2017.
"What you can't deny is Kevin did the work," said Lloyd. "He had 160 sacks. It shines light on our linebacker crew we had. He impacted our defense so much. He freed me up on things I could do. They had to watch us both. It was great to have him as a teammate and even greater to have him as a friend."