The blond hair, once long and unruly, has been reduced to a more conservative cut with a small rattail down the back of his neck. He spends part of his time pursuing a new career as a showman in the professional wrestling ring. He is defined on the football field by the sack dances that result from his relentless pursuit of opposing quarterbacks.
But make no mistake about Kevin Greene. The Carolina Panthers' charismatic, veteran outside linebacker matches his style with plenty of substance.
When he walks away from the game, Greene will be remembered as one of the game's great pass rushers. Over a 12-year career that began with the Los Angeles Rams and included three excellent seasons with Pittsburgh -- culminating in a trip to the Super Bowl last year -- Greene has 121.5 sacks, sixth on the all-time list. He needs only 12 more to pass Lawrence Taylor as the career leader among linebackers.
The Panthers, headed to the playoffs in only their second season, owe much of their success to a defense that has surrendered a league-low 188 points and recorded a league-high 52 sacks. And the defense takes most of its cues from Greene, who leads the NFC with 13.5 sacks and is headed to his third Pro Bowl.
When the Panthers plucked Greene from the free-agent market with a two-year, $2 million deal last spring, they knew they were buying more than a trash-talker with gaudy stats and a one-dimensional game.
"The thing about Kevin is he loves the game so much and prepares for it with a passion. He has kind of a controlled craziness," said Carolina coach Dom Capers, who coached Greene as the Steelers' defensive coordinator in 1993 and 1994. "He's been a real good addition, not only on the field but in the locker room. He has so much enthusiasm on the practice field. That carries over to the younger players."
"I'm not a rah-rah, come-get-your-notebook-and-get-to-the- meeting kind of guy. I try to be as professional as I can and let the young players see what I do," said Greene, 34. "I work out harder than ever [to stay in shape], I study a lot of film, I play hard and I pray to God."
Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, who worked with Greene for three seasons as the Steelers' linebackers coach, badly wanted Greene in his defense. He said if the Ravens "had come close" to matching Carolina's offer, Greene would be a Raven.
"He's the kind of guy who, if he's 4 ounces overweight, he wants the key to the building so he can work out on his own over the weekend," Lewis said of the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Greene.
Greene also leads the Panthers with 28 quarterback pressures, but he's much more than a pass rusher. He drops into coverage as smoothly as he draws a bead on a quarterback. He's always around the ball: He has 64 tackles and team highs of five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
Ravens running back Bam Morris, also a former Steeler, recalls Greene fondly.
"At first, I thought he'd be stuck up, but Kevin is cool. Everybody got along with him," Morris said. "When he gets on the field, he's a wild boy. He always got everybody going, especially when he started talking like Hulk Hogan. Not off the field. He hardly even went out with the other linebackers. Just a laid-back guy."
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Carolina Panthers
Site: Ericsson Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Chs. 11, 4/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Line: Panthers by 8
Pub Date: 12/14/96