Former Chiefs cornerback Gary Green’s career couldn’t be measured or defined by interceptions.
After all, few teams dared throw on Green during his seven years with the Chiefs. But that didn’t diminish the impact Green had as a leader, team captain and playmaker during a tumultuous time for Chiefs.
Green, the club’s first-round draft pick in 1977 and a Pro Bowl selection during his final three seasons with the Chiefs, was introduced as the 45th member of the club’s Hall of Fame on Saturday night before the annual 101 Dinner at the Westin Crown Center.
“I’ve had a lot of honors in my life, and this ranks right at the top,” said Green, 59. “You strive to be the best at something and making it to the National Football League is great, but to have the team look back and choose you as one of their best, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Green, a native of San Antonio and college star at Baylor, had three favorite teams as a youngster, the in-state Dallas Cowboys and Houston Oilers as well as the Chiefs, who captivated him as a teenager when they won Super Bowl IV.
“That first year, I’m like a kid in a candy store with Willie Lanier, Jim Lynch, Ed Podolak, Emmitt Thomas …” said Green, the 10th player taken in the 1977 draft. “It seemed like yesterday I was watching those guys, idolizing them, and all of a sudden I was on the same team with them.”
Green was a starter from the beginning at left cornerback and spent his first two seasons learning from Thomas, a future Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback.
Green intercepted a James Harris pass in the 1977 home opener against San Diego, and it didn’t take long for word to get out around the league. Don’t throw Green’s way.
“There were times when I actually got bored because no one would throw at me,” said Green. “I knew Cliff Branch real well with the Oakland Raiders, and after one game, I said, ‘Cliff, come on, man, you’re not even throwing at me,’ and he said, the first thing they talked about in the Monday morning meeting was, ‘You can’t go at Green.’
“My hardest thing was to stay focused because I never knew when they were going to try me. I’d get two or three interceptions in a season, and that doesn’t look very impressive, while other corners who were getting burned left and right were getting five, six interceptions because of the number of balls they threw at them.”
Green managed to intercept two more passes as a rookie — both in a game at Cleveland — and just one in 1978. That’s when he approached secondary coach Dick Roach and asked if he could cover the opponents’ No. 1 receiver, regardless of what side of the field he lined up.
“I started flipping back and forth sides of the field, which could have been a death sentence for me,” Green said.
Instead, Green, with his quickness and uncanny ability to stick with speedy receivers while still backpedaling downfield, took on the best in the game … Lynn Swann, John Jefferson, Steve Largent, Cliff Branch … and seldom was burned.
“He had a gift,” former Chiefs safety Deron Cherry said, “and that was if he got beat on one play, it never affected him the next play. It was like it was a new ballgame. He was a fighter. He never gave up on anybody, and he never gave up on himself.”
Green intercepted five passes in 1979 and five more in 1981 when he began a string of three straight Pro Bowl seasons, capped by a career-best six interceptions in 1983.
Green, who would finish his Chiefs career with 24 interceptions, continued the franchise’s legacy of great secondary play that was started by the likes of Thomas and Johnny Robinson and continued by safeties Gary Barbaro, Lloyd Burruss and Cherry and cornerbacks Albert Lewis, Kevin Ross, all of whom are in the Chiefs Hall of Fame.
“The greatest players aren’t selfish,” Cherry said. “They give up their time, they give up themselves and try to make everyone else around them better, and making sure everyone understands how to be a professional.
“For Lloyd and I coming in as rookies, guys like Gary Green, Barbaro and Eric Harris taught us how to play the game and what it took to be successful. It’s always been a history in Kansas City to have great people in the secondary, and those guys carried the torch and passed it on to us.”
Green also was part of the Chiefs’ longstanding tradition of outstanding special teams play. He blocked nine kicks in his career — including two blocked punts, three blocked field goals, and four blocked extra points — and in 1980 hit the trifecta of blocking a punt, a field goal and extra point in the same season.
“I loved special teams,” said Green, a 5-foot-11, 191-pounder. “The coaches loved me out there because I was hard to block. I loved blocking kicks and almost had a bunch more, but teams worked on blocking me. Me, (safety) Gary Barbaro and other starters took pride on special teams as well as defense.”
Unfortunately, the Chiefs of the late 1970s and early 1980s struggled to find their way after the careers of the Super Bowl players ended. There was no free agency in those days, and if teams didn’t draft well, they struggled.
Green played on only one winning team in Kansas City, a 9-7 club in 1981. But coach Marv Levy was fired after the 3-6 strike season of 1982, a move Lamar Hunt would later say was the biggest mistake in his ownership of the franchise.
“We were a pretty doggone good team, my fourth and fifth year there,” Green said, “but unfortunately, we were in the toughest division in football … and had to play Air Coryell in San Diego and the Orange Crush Denver Broncos and the Oakland Raiders twice a year.”
Green was known as much for his candor in the locker room as he was for his ability on the field, and he spoke out after the Chiefs allowed Pro Bowl safety Gary Barbaro to jump to the upstart USFL before the 1983 season. Green was soon fined by new coach John Mackovic after cornerback Eric Harris was traded to the Rams.
That was the first of several dust-ups the opinionated Green had with the autocratic Mackovic.
“I never had a problem with a coach in my life,” Green said, “but I was one of the team captains … we had one of the best secondaries in football … but when Gary Barbaro signed with the New Jersey Generals of the USFL, I was (angry).
“Mackovic and I just did not get along. He came in and went after all the leaders to show he was the man. It was a very long season …When Mackovic came in, it seemed like the building blocks in place started falling off the side.”
Green still intercepted six passes in a 6-10 season in 1983, but the Chiefs traded him in a 1984 draft-day deal to the Los Angeles Rams for first- and fifth-round picks. The first-round pick turned out to be left tackle John Alt, who would spent 13 years with the club and was inducted into the Chiefs Hall of Fame in 2001.
“Gary had a very strong personality, and he wasn’t going to be intimidated by anybody,” Cherry said. “John, at that stage, when you’re coming in, and you’re the new coach, the first two years he was almost trying to coach by fear.
“There are certain guys who had headstrong personalities and weren’t going to be intimidated by that. Gary was a strong personality, but he was a heck of a football player, and you just don’t give up things like that.”
Green would play two seasons with the Rams, reaching the playoffs both years, including the 1985 NFC Championship Game. He earned Pro Bowl honors after intercepting six passes in 1985, but he had to retire after the season because of two herniated disks in his neck.
Green, whose parents were educators, has spent the past 21 years coaching high school football in San Antonio, including the last seven seasons at his alma mater, Sam Houston High School, leading his team to the playoffs five times.
“We’re trying to save as many inner-city men and women as we can,” Green said. “I’m coaching a lot of my classmates’ grandchildren.”
Though his son, Gary Green Jr., played at Kansas during 2005-08, Green’s Friday night duties as a high school coach precluded him from coming to Kansas City until he attended Barbaro’s Hall of Fame induction in 2013.
Now, Green will return this fall when his name is etched onto the Ring of Honor in Arrowhead Stadium.
“I grew up idolizing the Kansas City Chiefs,” he reflected. “Now to think I’m going to be one up there with them …”