Kevin Greene spent his entire career bagging quarterback sacks.
On Saturday the former sack-master for the Carolina Panthers took down his biggest target – a place in the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Greene, who finished his career with the Panthers in 1999, was one of eight men selected to the Hall on the eve of Super Bowl 50. Greene had been a finalist the past five years.
He joined quarterbacks Brett Favre and Ken Stabler, offensive linemen Orlando Pace and Dick Stanfel, Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy, Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison and Eddie DeBartolo, whose 49ers teams won five Super Bowls during his 23 years as San Francisco’s owner.
Greene collected 160 sacks over his 15-year career, the most by a linebacker and third all-time behind defensive ends Bruce Smith and Reggie White. Greene and White, who died in 2004 at 43, are the only Panthers’ players selected to the Hall of Fame.
Bill Polian, the Panthers’ first general manager, was inducted into the Hall last year.
Greene entered the league in 1985 (three years after sacks became an official statistic) and was one of the premiere pass-rushers in the 1990s.
Greene had 10 seasons of double-digit sacks and collected 97.5 of his sacks after he turned 30. Only Smith (108) had more at such an advanced age.
Greene played during a golden age of quarterbacks, and teams needed fast, strong pass-rushers to go after them.
“It was crazy because one week you’re looking at Joe Montana and the next week you’re looking at John Elway. And the next week it was Dan Marino. And the next week it was Warren Moon and Troy Aikman, Brett Favre,” Greene said. “My job was to hunt them and they paid me to do it.”
Greene was a walk-on at Auburn before the Los Angeles Rams drafted him in the fifth round in 1985. He spent his first three seasons with L.A. playing special teams and bugging Rams coach John Robinson to put him on the field more.
“He threatened to send my butt back to Alabama if I came to his office any more asking for playing time,” Greene said. “I just kept knocking on the door.”
In 1988 Rams defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur saw something in Greene and designed a defense called “Eagle” to take advantage of Greene’s pass-rushing skills as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme.
“I paid my dues, seasoned a little bit and was really champing at the bit to go,” he said.
He played eight of his 15 seasons with the Rams, then spent three years with Pittsburgh, one with San Francisco and three with Carolina. In three seasons with the Panthers, Greene amassed 41.5 sacks in 47 games.
Greene, then 34, became the oldest player to lead the league in sacks with 14.5 in 1996 during the Panthers’ NFC Championship Game season in the franchise’s second year of existence.
He left Carolina for San Francisco after the ’96 season following a bitter contract dispute with Polian, but returned in 1998 for his final two seasons. The Panthers suspended Greene for a game in 1998 for attacking assistant coach Kevin Steele during a sideline altercation.
The last two sacks of Greene’s career came against Jake Delhomme when the popular Panthers quarterback was with the New Orleans Saints.
Greene, 53, lives in Destin, Fla., where he helped coach his son’s high school football team last fall. He won a Super Bowl ring as an assistant coach with Green Bay in 2010, but stepped away from coaching in 2014 to spend more time with his family.
Greene wore a pinstriped suit to Saturday’s Hall announcement during the NFL Honors program – along with the Super Bowl ring he won with the Packers.
He said he remains a fan of the four teams he played with – “anybody that paid the bills.” But Greene added he was pleased to see the Panthers in Super Bowl 50 under owner Jerry Richardson, who was in attendance Saturday.
“They’re just classy, classy people and have a wonderful organization there in Carolina,” Greene said. “I was truly blessed to be a part of that organization for three seasons.”