For 15 Days we will be counting down the Top 15 Greatest Steelers of the Bill Cowher Era. The list will have both offensive and defensive players, and in doing the list no kickers or punters were selected. Below is our number choice of the day building towards the number one Steeler of the Cowher Era.
OLB Kevin Greene: 1993-1995
Kevin Greene played just three seasons in the Cowher regime, yet was one of the most feared players that took the field over those three seasons. With his long flowing goldie locks, and snarl that made him a terror to quarterbacks, he led a Steelers defense that for those three seasons had the ability to take over games, and make life a nightmare for offenses. Greene was a player the Steelers were able to snag off the free agent market from the then Los Angeles Rams, and even as of today he is one of the top free agents, if not the top free agent, the Steelers have ever signed.
Greene seemed to be in the prime of his career when he made his way into Steel town at the age of 31. After playing seven seasons for the Rams, he was given the chance to pair up with another player at the other OLB position in Greg Lloyd that teams feared. Combined, they were the best 1-2 punch at linebacker for the three seasons he was in Pittsburgh. He and Lloyd would often comment to each other that they would meet at the QB, and sometimes even make a bet on who would get there first. Greene was not exactly a stranger to teams when he joined the Steelers in 1993. In 1988 Greene led Rams with 16.5 sacks which was 2nd in the NFL behind Reggie White. In 1989, Greene made the NEA All-Pro as well as The Sporting News All-Pro Team and the Pro Bowl with his second consecutive season of 16.5 sacks (4th in the NFL). His 13 sacks (tied for 6th in the NFL) in 1990 gave him 46 sacks for that three-year period, the most of any player.
1993 when he joined the Steelers, the defense was in somewhat of a transition. They were still getting use to Bill Cowher’s system, and under the second year head coach, he and Greene seemed like a good match, as playing in a 3-4 defense Greene had more shots at the QB. That season he had a good first season in Steel Town, with 12.5 sacks, good for 7th in the league. His fierce play seemed to fit in well with the fans of Pittsburgh. On a Monday night early in the year vs. the Falcons at the Georgia Dome, Greene was on fire, taking over the game and gaining sacks and forced fumbles as the Steelers rolled to a 45-17 win. While Greene continued to play well that season, the team slumped, and nearly missed the playoffs. They did squeak in as the last wild card team to make it, and fell in the first round to the Chiefs 27-24 in overtime.
The following year, Greene and the Steelers D dominated basically the entire season. After a 2-2 start, the team went 10-2 the rest of the way, as Greene and the “Blitzburgh” defense led the Steelers to the AFC Central title and home field throughout the playoffs. Greene was consensus All-Pro in 94 by AP, PFWA, NEA, TSN while leading the NFL in sacks and where he made another appearance in the Pro Bowl. “We’re coming from everywhere. We play with 15 guys in the huddle. We have guys parachuting from airplanes, fans coming from out of the stands to help us go after people,” Greene said of that seasons defense.
While the regular season belonged to the Steelers, the playoffs turned into a nightmare. The defense did have its day in the divisional round vs Cleveland, as the team stuffed the Browns and even recorded a sack to win 29-9. All that was left was what should have been an easy win over the Chargers in the AFC Title game at Three Rivers. The defense started fast that afternoon, stopping QB Stan Humphires and running back Natrone Means all day. At the half, the team led 10-3. The D though had a breakdown in the third quarter up 13-3, allowing TE Alfred Pupunu to get free and score on a 43-yard TD to make it 13-10. Then, with just minutes remaining, the D again failed to finish off the Chargers, as Tony Martin caught another 43-yard TD as the Chargers stunned the Steelers 17-13.
Greene and the D was back in 1995, and despite having some issues early, played well enough after a 3-4 start to win 8 of 9 and finish 11-5, second seed in the AFC. The divisional round saw Buffalo come to town, and the Steelers built a 23-0 lead, and then held on after the Bills made it 29-21 to finish off the Bills, winning 40-21. The following week, Greene was a force as the team rallied to stop the Colts after falling behind late 16-13, they scored with just over a minute left, and then the D stopped Indy, advancing to the Super Bowl with a 20-16 win.
Super Bowl XXX was Greene’s last game in Black and Gold. The team played well, and after the D allowed Dallas a 13-0 lead, they put the clamps on Emmit Smith, Troy Akiman and the Dallas offense as the Steelers offense rallied to pull to 20-17 with just minutes left. A bad INT by the Steelers though led to a short Smith TD, and Greene’s dreams of a Super Bowl were gone as the Steelers fell 27-17. That offseason, the Steelers, despite three solid years in Pittsburgh, didn’t make much of an effort to resign Greene, and he signed with the Carolina Panthers. He played the 1996 season in Carolina, the 1997 year in San Fran, and then wrapped up his carrer with two more years in Carolina.
Greene was a solid fixture at OLB for Pittsburgh in those three years in Steel Town. He was always around the ball, and loved making life miserable for opposing QB’s. Bottom line, the Steelers D of 1993, 1994 and 1995 would not have been as successful as it was if it were not for Kevin Greene.
Tomorrow: Number 10
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