Don't call HOFer Kevin Greene a 'one-trick pony'

The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016 gets inducted on Saturday. Shutdown Corner will profile the eight new Hall of Famers, looking at each of their careers and their impact on the game.

Kevin Greene
Los Angeles Rams 1985-1992
Pittsburgh Steelers 1993-1995
Carolina Panthers 1996; 1998-1999
San Francisco 49ers 1997
Outside linebacker

Greatest Moment

Greene had some memorable moments. He went to a Super Bowl with the Steelers in 1995. Back in 1988 with the Rams, with a playoff berth on the line in Week 16, Greene sacked Joe Montana four-and-a-half times. But, fittingly, the greatest of the bunch might have come late in his career. In 1996, at age 34, Greene became the oldest player to lead the NFL in sacks. He recorded 14.5 for the Panthers in a season that saw him garner multiple individual awards and a third straight Prow Bowl selection. He also set an NFL record with five consecutive multi-sack games as his Panthers went 12-4. That Greene’s banner season came so late in his career is emblematic of his career arc.

You can’t think of Greene without thinking of longevity. Everything in his career happened later than it does for most. He didn’t even play football at Auburn until he walked on as a junior in 1983. The following year, he led the SEC in sacks. His first three NFL years weren’t memorable, but his fourth brought 16.5 sacks and the dominant game against Montana. Exactly 10 years later, he recorded 15 sacks in his penultimate year with the Panthers.

After leaving the Rams following the 1992 season, he compiled 87.5 sacks over the final seven years of his career. Greene and his flowing blonde locks never slowed down.

Impact on the game

Kevin Greene had 33 sacks between 1988-1989 with the Los Angeles Rams. (AP)
Kevin Greene had 33 combined sacks in 1988-1989 with the Los Angeles Rams. (AP)

Greene has a valid claim to the title of best pass-rushing linebacker ever. He sits atop the linebacker career sack leaderboard, having usurped Lawrence Taylor in 1997. Even at age 36 in 1998, Greene piled up 15 sacks and was named NFC Linebacker of the Year by the NFLPA. Green was very much the prototypical edge-rush fiend, a model that many modern day 3-4 outside linebackers have tried to emulate. Some have, but not many, if any, have been as menacing for as long as Greene was.

Case against his bust in Canton

Greene was stained with the “one-trick pony” label. It became more apt late in his career, when he was more of a specialist than an every-down backer. But it’s a bit of a misnomer when viewing Greene’s career as a whole.

The other main blemish on Greene’s résumé is the lack of a Super Bowl ring. His teams ventured into the playoffs year after year, and often progressed to the conference title games, but the crowning moment that would’ve made Greene a sure-fire Hall of Famer never arrived.

Case for his bust in Canton

Look at the list of NFL career sack leaders: Bruce Smith, Reggie White, and so on. It’s a list of Hall of Famers, many of them undisputed. Third on that list? Greene.

He finished his career with 160 sacks. That’s 9.5 more than Chris Doleman, who also played from 1985-1999, and who was enshrined in the Hall in 2012. It’s 18.5 more than Michael Strahan, who joined the exclusive club in 2014 despite retiring in 2008. It’s a Hall-of-Fame-worthy number, regardless of other stats and characteristics.

Memorable quote

“I really don’t know why I got tagged as being a one-trick pony or one-dimensional dude or soft against the run. That’s the biggest insult for me… that people think I’m soft against the run, which is unbelievable.” — Kevin Greene

Greene hated the misconception that he was a “one-trick pony” — probably because it wasn’t true. The great Dick LeBeau called him “a great player against the run” and “almost unblockable.” Greene had some blunt comments about his supposed one-dimensionality earlier this year:

“I think people just get so enamored with those 160 sacks their next thought is: Well, he surely can’t be good at anything else because he has a boatload of sacks. But in all reality I played strong-side outside linebacker… And I played that position for a reason. And it wasn’t because I was whiffing blocks and whiffing tackles and just getting blown off the ball 5 yards. … They wanted me to go hard and take on two blockers so the ball came outside in space to scrape an inside linebacker like a Levon Kirkland to make a free hit or something.”

Carolina Panthers linebacker Kevin Greene (91) celebrates in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Ericsson Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 20, 1996. The Panthers won 19-7. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Kevin Greene had plenty left in the tank in 1996 with the Carolina Panthers. (AP)