CANTON, Ohio - When he took the stage shortly after 6:15 p.m. Saturday, introduced alongside his fellow Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees, Kevin Greene raised his right arm and waved a Terrible Towel, paying homage to his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers.
And out beyond the stage, gathered in the front rows of the foremost section, dozens of Greene’s friends, relatives and football colleagues produced towels of their own. Once used to cheer Greene’s many sacks — and there were 35.5 of them across three years in Pittsburgh — the towels now welcomed him into the sport’s elite fraternity.
“I would never quite experience anything like being a Pittsburgh Steeler,” Greene said during his enshrinement speech, "playing for Mr. Rooney and the Steeler organization that had such a rich history of just lining up and kicking (expletive) and winning. ... It was the pinnacle of my football life.”
Related: Hall of Fame induction updates
Greene addressed the crowd and his football brethren for 19 minutes, harnessing all of the brash passion and exuberance that made him one of the league’s all-time sack artists. He offered comedic descriptions of practicing against running backs Bo Jackson and Eric Dickerson, both of whom kicked his (expletive), as Greene eloquently put it. He spoke with extreme gratitude about his father, a Vietnam War veteran, who Greene said instilled in the family proper army values. He left the stage with an impassioned thank you to our troops who keep this country safe.
When he folded his notes and saluted the crowd, the audience responded with a standing ovation.
“The good Lord has smiled upon me my entire life,” Greene said. “A reoccurring theme is that he surrounded me with people of high character and high integrity. They have all left an indelible mark on the fabric of my life.”
Among the most thanked individuals was Dom Capers, defensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers, and Greene's presenter Saturday night. Capers spent two stints as Greene’s coach (first in Pittsburgh, later in Carolina) and one as his colleague when Greene coached outside linebackers for five years on Mike McCarthy’s staff in Green Bay.
“I have known Dom Capers and his wife, Karen, since 1993,” Greene said. “He brought me to the Pittsburgh Steelers and put me in a position to affect games. And then with the Carolina Panthers, he was the head coach there and he brought me there and he put me in a position to affect games. Then he brought me to the Green Bay Packers, and he put me in a position to teach others to affect games."
When Capers brought Greene to the Packers, their relationship came full-circle after beginning in competitive fashion within the confines of the old NFC West. Capers, then the defensive backs coach for the New Orleans Saints, competed against Greene and the Rams twice a year during the late 1980s and early 1990s. He watched from afar as Greene’s blonde mustache, flowing locks and hulking shoulder pads became mainstays in opposing backfields. And he watched as Greene laid the foundation for a career that produced 160 sacks, third on the all-time list.
A few years prior, Greene entered the league as a fifth-round pick in 1985, the 113th overall selection by the Los Angeles Rams. He appeared in 15 games as a rookie and failed to record a sack, the only time in his career he had fewer than three in a season.
“He was a relentless player,” Capers said in a video introduction. “He played the game with a passion. He had a lot of fire to him. You could see he was a very emotional player. His style was really one where he was going to wear the guy down that he was playing against. He was playing as hard in the fourth quarter as he was at the start of the game.
“For three hours on Sunday, you were going to get everything that he had.”
Greene launched toward stardom by posting 10 seasons with 10 or more sacks — four with the Los Angeles Rams, two with the Steelers, three with the Carolina Panthers, one with the San Francisco 49ers. For several years he endured the sullenness of missing out on the Hall of Fame. Which meant that Saturday night, with a rapt audience, Greene made sure to revel in his moment of permanent recognition.
"But after 15 years of fun in the sun, I walk away happy and healthy — for the most part — and a peace of mind, peace of heart with the way I played," Greene said. "If you think about it, maybe that's the best a football player can do is exhaust his passion and go out on his own terms, and along the way have fun kicking people's (expletive) with your brothers. That's always fun."
He looked around the stadium and marveled at where he stood.
Said Greene: “I’m standing on the stage with the best ever. This is pretty cool, man.”