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Greene's career changed in Pittsburgh

Former Steelers linebacker Kevin Greene will receive his Hall of Fame ring at halftime of Sunday night's game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Heinz Field.

Throughout his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech, you could hear the emotion, the passion in his voice. Because if there is one thing former Steelers' linebacker Kevin Greene is, it's passionate.

He spoke on that August evening in Canton, Ohio, about his family, expressing his love for his wife Tara, his children Gavin and Gabi. He thanked his father, retired Col. T.R. Greene, his mother and his siblings. And he thanked the teams he played for, and his former teammates.

But when he talked about the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team he played three of his 15 seasons for, that passion went to a whole other level.

"I found myself in the right place at the right time in the football universe," said Greene. "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."

Greene was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the fifth-round in 1985, where he established himself as an elite pass rushing outside linebacker, collecting 72 ½ sacks in eight seasons. But the last two years the focus of the Rams defense shifted and for Greene the beginning of NFL free agency in 1993 came at a perfect time.

The Steelers were in the market for an outside linebacker after not matching an offer sheet to restricted free agent linebacker Jerrol Williams, who then went to the San Diego Chargers, and in came Greene.

For Greene, the timing was perfect. His career, while it was on the right track, needed a change.

"I think it was definitely a turning point for me," said Greene. "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 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.

Kevin Greene and Tony Dungy are inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame .

"Our ability as a defensive unit to put pressure on people, on the running game, put pressure on the running and passing game. The attacking style mentality (defensive coordinator) Dom Capers had as the defensive coordinator. The entire Steelers Nation had. They wanted us to come after folks and crush people. They didn't want to see soft zones. They wanted to see, pin the ears back and turn the Steelers loose. Let them go. That's what we did. And we did it well. It was a shame we didn't win a Super Bowl during my time there, but it was go get them, go hunt them.

"I loved getting a sack. First it was a feeling of relief. I know that is what that organization really wanted me to do. They wanted me to rush the passer, defend against the run because you can't be soft against the run and then drop back in coverage and do the things Dom Capers wanted to do.

"But what they really wanted me to do was crush quarterbacks. When I was really able to do that it was a feeling of relief. My teammates depended on me to do that. I contributed. I didn't want to let my teammates down. I did something to stop that drive. Either I hit the quarterback at the right time and caused a fumble we recovered, or we got an interception. I remember in 1993 I got a hit on Steve Young and the ball floated and Rod (Woodson) came down with the pick. I felt like I was contributing. A sack was different than making a tackle for a loss, or a tackle at the line of scrimmage. It was just me making a contribution and not letting my brothers down."

And he didn't let them down often, if ever.

"He had such a will to inflict a sack on the quarterback," said Steelers' inside linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky, who played linebacker with Greene. "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 went 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."

Greene finished his NFL career with 160 sacks, 26 fumble recoveries, five interceptions, and recorded three safeties.

"That is my boy," said Lloyd. "Kevin is my guy. I think it speaks volumes for the history of the linebacker. You think of Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, should be Andy Russell in there, and now you have Kevin in there. I hope it's not stopping there. It's overdue.

"What you can't deny is Kevin did the work. He had 160 sacks, third on the list. That should have been rewarded some time ago. It shines light on our linebacker crew that we had, things of that nature.

"I would go to war with him any day of the week. He is like a brother to me. I am so proud of him. He is most deserving. I can't speak anything bad about Kevin. It's all good. 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 as a friend."

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 and 1996) and a five-time Pro Bowler (1989, 1994-96 and 1998).

"I think Kevin would have been good for any team because he brought a level of intensity and professionalism," said former teammate Carnell Lake, now the Steelers' secondary coach. "He was no nonsense and his focus was all about being the best he can be. That's contagious. It's rare you come across a guy who is that intense and focused on his profession like that.

"From the time he entered the building until he left, he was focused and talked about football. Everything was about being the best, what he ate, how he trained, everything. That's why he is going to go down as one of the all-time best linebackers in the game.

"If you look back at outside linebackers who were productive in the league, not just statistically but the way they handled themselves, the intangibles, there were not many guys you're going to point to as the kind of guy I want to pattern my game after. Kevin was that kind of guy. When you walked into the building in the morning and left in the evening, you would see Kevin there. He was in the building before most people and was there later than most. That is the kind of guy he was. There are only a few things you can control personally – your effort, preparation and attitude – and Kevin always did that."

During his three seasons with the Steelers (1993-95) he recorded 35 ½ sacks, the second most by a player in their first three seasons with the Steelers since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. He finished his career playing for the Carolina Panthers (1996, 1998-99) and San Francisco 49ers (1997).

"While he was here a short period of time, he certainly left his mark with the Pittsburgh Steelers," said Cowher. "I think him and Greg Lloyd set the mantra for our football team on the defensive side of the ball. It's great to see guys recognized for their production over a long period of time. He is one of the best outside linebackers to ever play the game."

Greene's wait to get into the Hall of Fame was a long and sometimes trying one, waiting seven years before he finally crossed the Gold Jacket threshold. But when the time came this year, it was well worth the wait. Because not only was he representing linebacker Kevin Greene, he was representing Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Kevin Greene.

"Some people may question that decision to go in as a Steelers linebacker, seeing I played eight years with the Rams," said Greene. "The defensive scheme put me in a great position, Steelers Nation and their fervor for the game, and the organization and the rich history, the winning tradition, and my brothers that surrounded me on that defense. It was a combination of things that helped me take that step to a really impactful level and carry through the remainder of my career.

"It was a phenomenal experience. It really put me on the stage there. I was surrounded by great coaches, great players. Just that Steelers organization was a wonderful, classy organization to play for. Playing for Steelers Nation at Three Rivers was the epitome of excitement for me just to hear them cheer and just rock Three Rivers. It was a tremendous experience.

"Just tradition, history, steel, hard workers, it was a great, hard-nosed city. The mentality of it represented so much to me. A winning tradition in everything. This is the way you are supposed to play the game, the way we played the game."

Today, at Heinz Field, Greene will get to experience the thrill of being in front of Steelers Nation one more time when he receives his Hall of Fame ring.

"Playing at Three Rivers was unlike anything I ever experienced," said Greene. "It was like football heaven to me. They were just as excited as I was. It got me even more excited and passionate to play. When they started rocking that stadium and waving the Terrible Towel, it was deafening. Defensively we could get a team under control in the first quarter and the crowd would want more. Other teams would come in and they were so overwhelmed by our defense, by our fans. They were overwhelmed by the fans.
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"I remember Tara and I, after the games we would go out to the parking lot at Three Rivers and sign autographs for as long as people wanted my autograph. We would stay there for an hour and half. As long as people were in line for my autograph, I would stand there and sign autographs. I wanted to give something back to them because they were giving me so much. It was a wonderful opportunity to play in front of them. I wanted to make them happy and let them know I loved being a Steelers' player and still do."

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