Greene: Production makes him HOF worthy

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Kevin Greene fondly counts some of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history among his 160 career sacks. From Joe Montana to John Elway to Dan Marino to Brett Favre to Peyton Manning, the five-time Pro Bowl selection loves sharing how he "looked them all in the eye."

But the sack Greene remembers more than any, the one that gave him the most satisfaction, came against a quarterback few would list among the all-time greats in a 16-13 loss during an 0-7 start to the Carolina Panthers' 1998 season.

Greene liked the move so much he nicknamed it "Airborne" in recognition of his time as a paratrooper in the Army reserve.

It happened in the second half of an Oct. 18 game at Tampa Bay. The Bucs were faced with second-and-9 from their own 42 when Greene, with his trademark long blond hair, leaped over running back Warrick Dunn to take down quarterback Trent Dilfer.

Let's let Greene take it from here.

"Back then they ran a slide and cut blocking scheme to the left side where the running back cuts the end pass rusher," Greene shared earlier this week. "I'm thinking if I timed this thing up right, I can jump right over Warrick Dunn and hopefully land on Trent Dilfer.

"So I got a pre-snap read that they were going to do the slide and cut. I basically when through the shadow of my offensive tackle as he down blocked and leaped over Warrick Dunn. I ended up hitting Dilfer in the ear hole."

Greene paused and laughed, almost as if he were reliving the moment that truly was spectacular.

"It was a heck of a sack," he continued. "I'm sure they would fine me about $25,000 now."

Plays such as that are why Greene is among the 15 finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which will announce its 2014 class Saturday in New York City.

Of the NFL's top four in all-time sacks -- No. 1 Bruce Smith (200), No. 2 Reggie White (198), No. 3 Greene (160) and No. 4 Chris Doleman (150.5) -- Greene is the only player not in the Hall.

Some will argue Greene isn't in because he was a specialist who thrived only in playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme.

Greene doesn't buy that. He also keeps his hopes of making the HOF tempered, having been in this position the past two years.

"I guess it wouldn't be such a letdown if I knew my stats and my production didn't match up to those that are going in or have gone in," Greene said.

There's no denying Greene made a huge impact on the game and that that impact came mostly through sacks. He had double-digit sack seasons in 10 of his 15 seasons.

He led the league in sacks twice, including 14.5 during his 1996 season at Carolina in which at 34 he became the oldest player in the league to do so.

Two years later, Greene had 15 sacks for Carolina to establish a team record that stood until Greg Hardy tied it this season. His sack total is the most by a linebacker, ahead of greats such as Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Greene had at least half a sack against 66 players.

"I know that matches up with those that have been put in before me and those that are up now," Greene said of his career numbers.

But while sacks are why Greene is in position to make the HOF, that's not what he wants to be remembered for.

"If I would have people remember me for one thing, it would be I played the game with all the heart I had," he said. "I played it with emotion and passion and amped up and as fun as I possibly could. I let it all hang out. I laid it on the line."

And he did it in an era when there were some of the greatest quarterbacks the league will ever see.

"I knew I was living in an era of quarterbacks, guys that would go on into the Hall of Fame," Greene said. "Just knowing getting to them was my job, and knowing these guys were not going to be able to block me on a consistent basis ... I loved it."

Greene benefited from great defensive coordinators, from Fritz Shurmur when he entered the league in 1985 with the Rams to Dom Capers with the Steelers and later as the head coach with the Panthers to Dick LeBeau with Pittsburgh.

He benefited from being surrounded by great players, from Rod Woodson to Greg Lloyd to Carnell Lake to Lamar Lathon to Sam Mills.

"There were a lot of brothers," Greene said. "We hunted people. We hunted together."

Greene also benefited from having an innate ability to beat blockers with his quickness and technique, and a great passion for getting to the quarterback.

He carried his passion into coaching in 2009 when Capers, the defensive coordinator at Green Bay, made him his outside linebackers coach.

Following the 2010 season, Greene was rewarded with the one thing he never achieved as a player -- a Super Bowl title.

Now, Greene is focusing his passion on his family. He announced in mid-January he was leaving the Packers to spend more time with his wife and two children, one that is a sophomore in high school and the other a freshman.

He wants to give them the kind of time he put in as a player to be a Hall of Fame candidate.

"I kind of started to realize time is slipping through my fingers," Greene said. "If I don't step away now, I'm going to regret it when they get to college that I never had an opportunity to see them more.

"Three or four years from now, I may put my hat back in the coaching arena and see if anybody will have me."

The more immediate question is will the HOF have Greene, who will be in New York for the announcement? His sack total says yes, but that may not be enough.

"I'm trying not to get my hopes up too much," Greene said. "The Hall of Fame voters, if they would look at my entire body of work, how I played, maybe they'll see fit to put me in.

"Commitment, passion, study habits, workout habits ... everything I did I think I did it the right way."