Good afternoon Panther fans! Is everyone as stoked as I am that as of today we've got less than 100 days until the season opener? Anyway, with all the talk of dead horses, sick mules, screwed bobcats and all sorts of woodland creature calamities I figured it's as good a time as any to attempt this idea I've been kicking around.
It came to me a few weeks ago in a comment thread. I forget who, and pardon me if it was you, but someone referred to Kevin Greene as that guy with long hair and conceded they didn't know much about him other than that. This bugged me for two reasons. First, it made me feel old for being able to remember watching Greene play and second it means some of our younger/newer fans may be missing out on knowing the history of this great team. Granted, we haven't been around long enough to have legends such as Bart Starr or Deacon Jones to look back fondly on but we've had a plethora of talented and exciting players not named Cam Newton.
My idea was to give a history lesson on one retired Panther per week. I think as great as it is to discuss current players and potential, it's equally important to remember past players and accomplishments. If you guys enjoy this please let me know or rec it and I will continue next week.
Much the opposite of today's philosophy, the Panthers were once a team that built through free agency. The team was young and an immediate impact was needed to jumpstart a new fanbase. One of the keys to that strategy was Kevin Greene.
The majority of this heralded OLB's career was spent outside of Carolina. That's right, at one time we were a 3-4 defense and a nasty one at that. Greene spent the first 10 years of his NFL playing career with the Rams and Steelers. In those years he was a 3-time Pro Bowler and had back to back 16.5 sack seasons in 88-89. We're here to discuss his career in Carolina though.
After the Panthers inaugeral season in 1995 which saw them finish with a 7-9 record and 3rd in the division, then GM Bill Polian knew that this team was not far from a playoff birth. Through the draft they aquired a well known WR by the name of Muhsin Muhammad but the big splash came in free agency. That year the Panthers acquired QB Steve Beuerlein, TE Wesley Walls, CB Eric Davis and LB Kevin Greene.
Kevin Greene was locked up for a whopping $2 million for 2 years. The pocket full of greenbacks never slowed him down though and in fact he proved that after a decade in the league he was still one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Greene was named the NFC Linebacker of the Year and the NEA Defensive Player of the Year (the final year this award was bestowed). He also made his 4th Pro Bowl in 1996 after leading the NFL with 14.5 sacks. Pretty impressive, huh?! The guy gave one of the best defensive performances for a Panther in his first season with the team and 11th year in the league. Did I mention they went to the playoffs that year with a 12-4 record as the NFC West champions? Well it wasn't all roses for Greene and the Panthers.
Greene apparently wasn't satisfied playing the part of a psychopath on the field alone as he voiced his desire to become a "pro" wrestler as well. This was not taken well by the Panthers front office and after much dispute the Panthers released him before the start of the 1997 season. The division rival at the time San Francisco 49ers were more than happy to scoop up Greene after he imposed his will on Steve Young and their offense the year before. While his wrestling career was short lived and uneventful it did include a tag team partnership with Bill Goldberg, a former NFL player himself.
As we've seen in the past week, most 49ers are jealous of the Panthers and wish for nothing more but to play for such a talented and classy organization (here's to you Alex Smith) and Kevin Greene was no different. After one year in the Bay Area he returned to play his final two years in Charlotte. What did he do upon his return in 1998? Aside from not skipping a beat in his role of team leader and fan favorite he recorded 15 sacks, picked up his second NFC Linebacker of the Year award and returned to the Pro Bowl for the fifth time. His final year as a Panther and player in the NFL the Panthers transitioned to a 4-3 defense where Greene was inserted as strongside linebacker. He still recorded 12 sacks in his final year.
Greene managed to cap off one hell of a career here in Carolina. Bowing out with 160 career sacks (3rd all time), 41.5 of which came in a Panther uniform he solidified himself as one of the Greatest Carolina Panthers ever in just three seasons. If you want to meet this living legend in person you'll have to wait until the next time Green Bay comes to town as he has been their OLB coach for the past two years.
There you have it folks. For long-time fans I hope this was a fun trip down memory lane. For the newly converted and younger fans I hope this was informative and made you even prouder to be a Panther fan. Please feel free to throw out suggestions for who to feature in next week's article.