Thursday, January 30, 2014
My quirky memory of Kevin Greene
By David Newton
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The door opened to a room adjacent to the Carolina Panthers locker room. Standing there was an imposing figure with long blond hair. He ushered me in and then put one hand in the chest of the team's communications director, a not-so-subtle hint that he should wait outside.
The door was closed. Locked. The shades were pulled.
My heart raced.
I wondered if this man that eventually would sack more quarterbacks than anybody in NFL history not named Bruce Smith and Reggie White was going to zero in on me.
Instead, he sat down and apologized.
Former Carolina outside linebacker Kevin Greene is one of 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When I thought of memories from his three seasons with the Panthers, this one stood out.
Not because he apologized. But because it showed the great passion that epitomized his career that began in 1985 with the then-Los Angeles Rams and ended in 1999 with the Panthers.
Greene laughed about that moment when we walked earlier in the week. He again apologized if he had offended me.
If you're wondering why he apologized on this day in 1996, it was over a locker room confrontation we had the day before. He didn't want to talk about his first meeting against the Pittsburgh Steelers since leaving the team in free agency, and let me know it in a loud way.
When I think of Greene, I think of loud. I think of passion. It's what made him so relentless at getting to the quarterback 160 times, which trails Smith with 200 and White with 198.
Forty-one and a half of those sacks came at Carolina. He had a league-best 14.5 in 1996, teaming with Lamar Lathon (13.5 sacks) to lead the Panthers to the NFC championship in the organization's second season.
That same passion is what led to Greene being released by Carolina following the 1996 season after a lengthy contract dispute, what led him to return in 1998 after a year with San Francisco to lead the team in sacks with 15, what led to him to be suspended for a game during the '98 season for attacking an assistant coach on the sideline.
"One of the reasons Kevin is a good player is that he is an emotional guy,'' then-Carolina coach Dom Capers said after Greene attacked assistant Kevin Steele. "But [he] hew he was wrong.''
He did. Greene was almost in tears apologizing after the game.
"I lost my composure in the heat of the moment," Greene said at the time. "It's an emotional game and I will apologize to the entire team tomorrow."
Capers knew that emotion and passion is what made Greene special and at the same time seem . . . well, out there, which may explain his brief career as a professional wrestler.
It's why in 2009, as the defensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers, Capers made Greene his outside linebackers coach.
It may be why Greene, without warning, recently left the Packers to pursue other opportunities and focus on his two children.
That Greene did this somewhat spontaneously shouldn't come as a surprise. Emotional and passionate people often make spontaneous decisions.
They often say and do things that they later come back and apologize for.
But that same passion is why Greene had a career that makes him worthy of serious Hall of Fame consideration.
He owes nobody an apology for that.