While Kevin Greene spent only three of his 15 NFL seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s abundantly clear those years left a major impact on the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee.
“We kicked a lot of (butt),” Greene said Thursday during a national conference call with reporters. “We didn’t win the big one, I got that, but we kicked a lot of (butt) and it was fun with my teammates. That’s as good as it gets, I think. Playing for the Steelers in Three Rivers (Stadium), knocking the crap out of (Buffalo’s) Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas on a Monday night. It was the zenith of my career.”
The Granite City South graduate and five-time Pro Bowl selection will be inducted into the Hall of Fame at 6 p.m. Aug. 6 in Canton, Ohio. He will receive his Hall of fame ring in Pittsburgh during an Oct. 2 ceremony when the Steelers play the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I really bleed black and gold,” said Greene, who played only three seasons for the Steelers (1993-95) as opposed to eight with the Los Angeles Rams (1985-92), a team that also approached him about doing a ceremony in Los Angeles. “Really that was the pinnacle of my career there in Pittsburgh. We just crushed people, we had the right attitude on defense and we had great weapons all around. Just really the time of my life.”
Greene said he spoke to the Rooney family, which owns the Steelers, at the last Super Bowl.
“I’m honored that (Mr. Rooney) would accept that and have me come back and give me the ring there at Heinz Field,” Greene said. “Once a Steeler, always a Steeler.”
The same could be said for the Granite City South Warriors. Greene lived in Granite City only during his four years of high school with his father stationed at the nearby Granite City Depot before making the football team at Auburn as a walk-on.
I do kind of consider Granite my second home, because you change a lot from your freshman through senior year in high school — and I did. It was a great experience living there and going to school there in Granite City.
Earlier this year, school officials announced the Granite City football field will be named in Greene’s honor.
“I just made a lot of friends there and really enjoyed being a part of that community,” Greene said. “That was a military stop for us and we lived on the military base in west Granite. It was a great experience ... I do kind of consider Granite my second home, because you change a lot from your freshman through senior year in high school — and I did. It was a great experience living there and going to school there in Granite City.”
It’s also where Greene met one of his best friends, Bob Firtos. The two have remained close and Firtos now works as a fireman in the Lemay (Mo.) Fire Department.
“Since we were 14 we’ve just been tighter than tree bark, great friends,” Greene said of Firtos, also calling him “one of my best friends, if not my best friend of a lifetime.”
Greene is part of a 2016 Hall of Fame class that includes former Rams offensive tackle Orlando Pace, quarterbacks Brett Favre and Ken Stabler, receiver Marvin Harrison, guard Dick Stanfel, coach Tony Dungy and owner Edward DeBartolo, Jr.
Greene’s 160 quarterback sacks rank third all-time and they’d come whether he was terrorizing signal-callers from defensive end or outside linebacker. It may have seemed like he had a sixth sense about when and where to rush the quarterback, but Greene’s explanation was far simpler. It took work — lots of it — watching video and breaking down personnel groupings and formations.
Greene recalled his preparation for games against Favre and the Packers.
I was really good at understanding personnel groupings and what teams liked to do. I recognized the formation at the line of scrimmage based on the personnel groupings that were on the field. I could almost anticipate the play 80 percent of the time.
“I was a student of the game,” Greene said. “I studied every game film in our plan leading up to our game. I was really good at understanding personnel groupings and what teams liked to do. I recognized the formation at the line of scrimmage based on the personnel groupings that were on the field. I could almost anticipate the play 80 percent of the time.”
That’s right, even if Favre was doing his signature “making something out of nothing” plays.
“Brett liked to run the naked bootleg, and a lot of times he liked to run it in the fringe areas right before the red zone,” Greene explained. “He likes to run it when the ball’s on the left hash, the defensive right hash.”
After catching Favre a few times, Greene would hear from the quarterback.
“He said ‘Well, I thought you were playing ahead of the ball, I kind of thought you had sneaked our playbook to,”’ Greene said. “Brett was a great competitor. He was just a wild man out there doing his thing — a lot like me but on the other side of the ball.”
Greene said he considered having a family member present him at the Hall of Fame. Instead, he turned to another member of the Steelers family, former Steelers defensive assistant and Carolina Panthers head coach Dom Capers.
Capers and then-Steelers head coach Bill Cowher were big reasons Greene decided to sign with the Steelers once he became a free agent in 1993.
The primary reason was Greene felt he could wreak more havoc in Capers’ 3-4 defense as an outside linebacker than what he was doing in the Rams’ new 4-3 scheme.
Greene had 72.5 sacks in eight seasons with the Rams, but picked up 35.5 more in only three seasons with the Steelers.
“It just so happened that the Pittsburgh Steelers were going to lose their starting left outside linebacker (Gerald Williams),” Greene said. “The Steelers needed a left outside linebacker in their 3-4 (scheme) and it was just a perfect fit. (Dom) brought me to Pittsburgh and put me into the position to have an impact in games.”
Capers also brought Greene with him to Carolina once he became the head coach there, then brought him to Green Bay as an outside linebackers coach.
“Dom has just had a tremendous impact on my football career and my family, just helping provide for my family very well over the years,” Greene said. “I’ve known him and his wife Karen since 1993 and just love them both.”