Monday's NFL: HOF linebacker, pass rush great Kevin Greene dies at 58

Steve Reed
Associated Press

Kevin Greene will be remembered for his long blond hair, his charisma, and the havoc he created for opposing quarterbacks.

The Hall of Fame linebacker, considered one of the fiercest pass rushers in NFL history, died Monday, it was confirmed by the family and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was 58.

No cause of death was given.

Pro Football Hall of Fame outside linebacker Kevin Greene stands on the sideline during warmups before a game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals in Pittsburgh, Monday, Sept. 30, 2019.

“I regarded him as a personal friend and a true Hall of Famer in every sense,” Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker said in a statement Monday. “He possessed the most incredible can-do attitude of anyone I ever met. He was a great player, but more than that, he was a great man.”

A two-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowl selection, Greene finished his 15-year NFL career with 160 sacks, which ranks third in league history behind only Bruce Smith (200) and Reggie White (198). He also had 23 forced fumbles and five interceptions.

He played for Los Angeles Rams (1985–1992), Pittsburgh Steelers (1993–1995), Carolina Panthers (1996, 1998-99) and San Francisco 49ers (1997). He was All-Pro in 1994 and 1996.

Former Panthers general manager Bill Polian said Greene was a person exceptionally devoted to his family, his craft as a football player and the military, where he earned the rank of captain and completed airborne training at Fort Benning to become a paratrooper.

Polian said Greene had an exceptional ability to escape blockers.

“He was a self-made technician and as good as anyone who has ever played the game in terms of technique,” said Polian, like Greene a Hall of Fame inductee. “And because he was undersized, grit played a tremendous role in his success.”

Greene would have agreed with that assessment.

“I wasn’t the biggest (and) I wasn’t fastest,” Greene once said. “But as long as you have a motor, you have heart … that will overcome any physical limitations.”

Greene regularly studied film to search for opponents’ weaknesses.

“I figured out how to pass rush,” Greene said. “I figured out how to put a guy, an offensive tackle three to four inches taller, 80 pounds heavier, put him in a position of failure, and I did that.”

Dom Capers, who coached Greene in Pittsburgh and Carolina, said Greene “had such a great passion for the game.”

“He had an infectious personality,” Capers said. “He influenced everybody that he was around. Everyone had a tremendous amount of respect for him because he not only produced as a player, but because as good of a player as he was he was an even better person.”

Steelers President Art Rooney II noted the effect Greene had on the team.

“We lost an amazing player and person this morning with the passing of Kevin Greene,” Rooney said. “His sudden death is a shock to us all as he was a close friend and teammate to so many people in the Steelers family.

“When Kevin came to the Steelers in 1993 he had an immediate impact. Paired with Greg Lloyd, Kevin and Greg led a defense that became known as Blitzburgh and went on to play in Super Bowl 30. Kevin’s energy and enthusiasm were inspiring for our team as well as our fans.”

Greene was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016.

“So sad to hear the news of Kevin Greene passing away,” Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward said. “I only had a couple of interactions with him but when we did talk he always spoke with great energy and passion.”

Added Heyward’s teammate, Stephon Tuitt, on Twitter:

“It’s a Honor to Represent this legendary Number today for you and your family. I will make y’all proud. Prayers to Kevin Greene a legend.”

Greene had 14 or more sacks in three different seasons, including twice with the Panthers late in his career.

He also coached for the Packers and Jets after his retirement.

“To the coach that believed in me and gave me an opportunity as a Undrafted kid as he called ‘Out of nowhere coconut head’ to make my dreams comes true was a blessing! I will always remember your saying ‘there’s no substitute on kicking a man a(asterisk)(asterisk).’ RIP KG,” tweeted Jets linebacker Frankie Luvu.

Baker said the Hall of Fame flag “will be flown at half-staff in Kevin’s memory.”

Monday's game

►(At) Cincinnati 27, Pittsburgh 17: Giovani Bernard scored two first-half touchdowns after turnovers and the Bengals held on to stun the badly slumping Steelers.

The Bengals (3-10-1) led 17-0 at halftime and survived a rally by the Steelers, who lost their third straight after 11 consecutive wins to start the season. Pittsburgh didn’t get a first down until more than halfway through the second quarter.

Cincinnati snapped a streak of 11 straight losses to Pittsburgh in the most unlikely fashion, with Ryan Finley at quarterback. The second-year player, starting in place of injured No. 1 overall draft pick Joe Burrow, completed seven passes for 89 yards, but his 23-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter all but sealed it for the Bengals.

It was the second huge upset of this NFL weekend. Pittsburgh was a 14-point favorite, and the Los Angeles Rams were favored by 17 before losing to the previously winless New York Jets on Sunday. It was the first time since the 1970s that two teams favored by 14 points or more lost on the same weekend.

Three weeks ago, the Steelers were on track for the top overall seed in the AFC, but now they could end up a wild card. Pittsburgh has tough matchups remaining against Indianapolis (10-4) and Cleveland (10-4), which trails the Steelers by one game in the AFC North.

Pro Bowl selections

Led by their star quarterbacks, the Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers each had seven players selected to the Pro Bowl.

The Baltimore Ravens also had seven players chosen.

Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes joins Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Houston’s Deshaun Watson as the AFC quarterbacks. For the NFC, it’s Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Arizona’s Kyler Murray.

Mahomes and Rodgers are the starters, though there will be no actual game this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Jan. 31, the players will be celebrated during two Pro Bowl-themed shows airing on an ESPN/ABC simulcast, with a virtual Pro Bowl experience within the Madden NFL 21 video game.

Roster selections were determined by votes of players, coaches and fans.

The other Chiefs are DE Frank Clark, OT Eric Fisher, WR Tyreek Hill, DT Chris Jones, TE Travis Kelce and SS Tyrann Mathieu.

Baltimore has OT Orlando Brown, DT Calais Campbell, LS Morgan Cox, CB Marlon Humphrey, LB Matthew Judon, FB Patrick Ricard and K Justin Tucker.

“After everything that this year has been like, it’s a real blessing to be back in this position again. To still be playing football – and at a high level – and to be voted in by my peers and coaches, it really means a lot. This is an honor I really appreciate as a player,” Brown said.

For Green Bay, the other six representatives are WR Davante Adams, CB Jaire Alexander, OT David Bakhtiari, G Elgton Jenkins, RB Aaron Jones and LB Za’Darius Smith.

Seattle has SS Jamal Adams, special teamer Nick Bellore, FS Quandre Diggs, WR DK Metcalf, LS Tyler Ott and LB Bobby Wagner.

Other notable selections include Titans running back Derrick Henry, the NFL’s leading rusher, and highly productive receivers Keenan Allen of the Chargers and Stefon Diggs of the Bills for the AFC’s offense. On defense, linebackers T.J. Watt of Pittsburgh and Darius Leonard of Indianapolis, Miami ball-hawking cornerback Xavien Howard and Cleveland end Myles Garrett made the squad.

Broncos outside linebacker Bradley Chubb cried during a Zoom call after being selected as a Pro Bowl starter as he reflected on his journey back from a torn ACL that sidelined him for most of 2019.

“Just to get the accolade is huge,” Chubb said. “I’m sorry for getting emotional, I just went through a lot this year. But this sure feels good.”

Chubb ranks fourth in the NFL with 7½ sacks and has 19 QB hits, nine tackles for loss and a forced fumble after missing 12 games last year and tweaking his surgically repaired knee during a stadium scrimmage last summer.

Panthers fire GM

The Panthers fired general manager Marty Hurney for a second time after the team lost eight of its last nine games and failed to make the playoffs for a third straight season.

Hurney’s contract was set to expire after the season.

“Marty is a little more traditional and I am probably a little more data-driven and analytical,” Panthers owner David Tepper said Monday in a videoconference call. “I think meshing those two things would be good. A little bit of fresh and refresh would be good. … Sometimes you need a change, and it’s that simple.”

The team will immediately begin a search for a new general manager.

The Panthers are the fifth team this season to fire their general manager, joining the Lions, Jaguars, Texans and Falcons.

Tepper said he is looking for “alignment and collaboration” between the team’s next general manager and first-year head coach Matt Rhule, who signed a seven-year, $62 million contract last year to join the Panthers.

Tepper didn’t speculate about Hurney’s replacement but said in terms of a timeline “the earlier, the better” – preferably before the 2021 NFL draft in April.

Hurney’s ouster led to speculation he may be headed to Washington to reunite with former Panthers coach Ron Rivera. Washington fired its general manager Bruce Allen in 2019 and Rivera was hired to run football operations. Rivera and Hurney remain close friends.

Carolina plays at Washington on Sunday, adding some intrigue to this weekend’s game.