Another year passes, and once again, another member of the Pittsburgh Steelers finds his way into Canton, as former Steelers outside linebacker Kevin Greene was named as one of eight members of the Hall of Fame Class of 2016.
It was a long wait for Greene, who recorded the third-most sacks in NFL history (the most by any linebacker over the course of a 15-year career. Of course, just three of those seasons were spent in Pittsburgh, but it’s where he truly made his mark as part of a dynamic pass-rushing tandem that epitomized the ‘Blitzburgh’ moniker.
What is interesting about Greene’s time in Pittsburgh is actually in part just how perfectly he fit in to the Steelers formula and embraced the defensive mentality that defined an era of the team. His tenure was an aberration in a solid chain of edge rushers in team history, because he was an outsider.
For a team that has in the modern era been so geared heavily toward constructing a team through the draft, the Steelers’ dipping of their toes into the very new free agency waters at the time—landing Greene with a three-year, $5.3 million contract—was unusual, and remains unusual today.
Greene was the outlier as an outside player being brought into the mix, and yet when he came here, already as an eight-year veteran, he came to embody the ‘spirit’ of the team as much as any other player on the Steelers, teaming up with Greg Lloyd, a homegrown talent, to form one of the most formidable duos in the league at that time.
If you look down the list of all-time sack leaders in club history—that is, since sacks became an official statistic in 1982—you will see the name Kevin Greene listed in the top 10 (eighth, in fact), in stark contrast to everybody around him who played all or nearly all of their football years in Pittsburgh.
Greene only played three years with the Steelers, in contrast to eight years with the Rams, another three with the Panthers, and one with the 49ers, but in those three years, he racked up 35.5 of his 160 career sacks.
You would have to go all the way down to number 22 on the list, Kimo Von Oelhoffen, to find the next free agent Steelers to make a dent on the team’s all-time pass-rushing list, because Pittsburgh built from within at the pass-rushing position as much as they did anywhere else.
From 1982 through 2014, Greene was the only outside linebacker ever to start a season opener for the Steelers as an outside free agent since the team moved to the 3-4 defense. Arthur Moats broke that streak in 2015, but his tenure was short, as he was replaced in the starting lineup by rookie draft pick Bud Dupree.
From the current era of Dupree and Jarvis Jones, back to the heydays of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, to Clark Haggans and Joey Porter, to Jason Gildon and Carlos Emmons and Chad Brown, Greene and Lloyd, Bryan Hinkle and Mike Merriweather, all the way back to Jam Ham and Robin Cole in 1982, the Steelers have a long and storied tradition of homegrown pass rushers, which makes Greene’s ability to make Pittsburgh his home in just three short seasons all the more remarkable, and is why Steeler nation is embracing his Hall of Fame induction as one of their own, even though he spent 12 years of his career player in other uniforms.