Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers
If you look over Kevin Greene’s football career, he’s always been a late bloomer.
On Saturday, the eve of Super Bowl 50, Greene, a 1980 graduate of Granite City South High School, garnered the greatest honor of his illustrious career on the gridiron — induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
It was the fifth time in a row Greene had been a finalist in the HOF voting. He had been a semifinalist in each of the past 10 seasons and overall, it concluded a 13-year wait where Greene has been eligible.
Greene joins a memorable eight-member HOF class, with former quarterbacks Brett Favre and Ken Stabler, wide receiver Marvin Harrison, offensive tackle Orlando Pace, offensive guard Dick Stanfel, head coach Tony Dungy and former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. It was Favre’s first year on the ballot.
Greene becomes the second Granite City alum to join one of the four prestigious professional sports HOFs. Former basketball star Andy Phillip resides in the Naismith Hall of Fame for former NBA all-time greats.
But while Phillip helped lead the Warriors to a prep basketball state championship during the 1939-40 season, Greene was much more under the radar in his tenure at Granite City South.
He was a two-year starter in football for the Warriors, earning honorable mention all-conference his senior year. He also played basketball and was a high jumper for the track team.
Greene had to make it as a walk-on at Auburn University in Alabama to continue his football career and that’s where he began to blossom. In 1984 he won the Zeke Smith Award given to the Defensive Player of the Year.
He went on to be selected by the Birmingham Stallions of the defunct USFL in 1985 and was later taken in the fifth round by the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL Draft the same year.
The pass-rushing outside linebacker went on to a 15-year NFL career that lasted until 1999. He played for the Rams from 1985-92, the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1993-95, the Carolina Panthers in ‘96 and ‘98-99 and the 49ers in 1997.
Greene sits third on the all-time sacks list with 160. He made five Pro Bowl appearances and was a three-time First Team All-Pro selection.
Sticking to his theme of being a late bloomer, Greene recorded 97.5 sacks after the age of 30, the most for a player older than 30 in NFL history.
He and Greg Lloyd were a dynamic duo for the Steelers as a pair of pass-rushing juggernauts from their outside linebacker positions. They earned the moniker “Blitzburgh” during their time together and Greene was a key component on the Pittsburgh team that reached Super Bowl XXX in 1996 but lost to the Dallas Cowboys.
In a 2010 article on behindthesteelcurtain.com entitled “The LeBeau Effect,” former Steelers’ defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said, “Kevin Greene was almost unblockable.”
Greene later was a part of another Super Bowl as a coach, this time as a winner. He was hired as an outside linebacker coach for the Green Bay Packers in 2009, helping them transition to a 3-4 defense. The Packers went on to win Super Bowl XLV, oddly enough defeating his former team the Steelers. It was the first and only time Greene has been part of a Super Bowl championship.
His boisterous personality made him a hit with fans, too. He was outspoken, loud and recognizable with his patented long blond hair showcased during the top years of his career.
Greene even dabbled in professional wrestling in World Championship Wrestling (WCW). He teamed with another NFL alum, Steve McMichael, as his tag team partner when he first appeared. His last wrestling hurrah came in 1998 when he teamed up with another NFL alum, Bill Goldberg, before the NFL began to put “no wrestling” clauses in their contracts.
On a highlight reel of Greene’s accomplishments released on nfl.com after Saturday’s 2016 HOF class announcement, Greene said, “I hope the public sees that my heart is on my shoulder and I played with my heart and I don’t play this game for anything other than just sheer love and passion. That’s it; that’s why I play.”
I think that was obvious by Greene’s blue collar rise through the football ranks, from his time in Granite City to his rise at Auburn and his continued ascension through the NFL all the way to Canton. The Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies are scheduled for 7 p.m. on Aug. 6 in Canton.
Just remember though, before he takes his rightful place in Canton in August, he’s already been a beloved member of the Granite City Sports Hall of Fame.
When you get time, stop by GCHS outside of Memorial Gymnasium and pay homage to one of the city’s most decorated athletes. Greene memorabilia, including a gold football with his name on it representing being a HOF finalist during Super Bowl 50, is on display outside the gym.
Congratulations Kevin Greene, Granite City and the entire Metro East area is proud of you.