Ric Flair remembers friend Kevin Greene and the times they wrestled in a Charlotte bar
In 1996, Carolina Panthers star linebacker Kevin Greene and pro-wrestler Ric Flair had some of the biggest wrestling matches you've never heard of at a now-closed Charlotte restaurant called SouthEnd Brewery.
Greene died unexpectedly on Monday at the age of 58. No cause of death has been announced yet.
"We were close enough that he would come for Christmas dinner," said Flair gloomily when we spoke to Greene on the phone on Tuesday. The two men lived a block away in the Piper Glen area of South Charlotte for several years.
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All of Greene's friends - and there were hundreds - have great stories from Kevin Greene. This column is dedicated to some of those stories as we remember a player with a larger than life personality and relentless drive who got him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and # 3 all-time on the NFL sacklist. Let's start with Greene and one of the most famous pro wrestlers of all time shuffling the floor at SouthEnd Brewery.
Flair and Greene, both golden-haired showmen and hitherto close friends, developed a routine on Sunday evening after the 1996 home games, the wrestler said. SouthEnd Brewery at the time was partly owned by then-Panthers President Mark Richardson, and the restaurant / bar, less than two miles from Bank of America Stadium, had become a magnet for the teams' players.
"Back then, the SouthEnd Brewery was the place to go after home games," said Flair.
Greene and his wife Tara usually arrived first. Later Flair himself slammed the door of the brewery and often shouted his signature "Whooooo!" to announce his arrival.
"And Kevin would pretend to be upset about it or something else," said Wesley Walls, the former Panthers who was a regular at those Sunday night gatherings, along with quarterback Kerry Collins and numerous other Carolina players. "He would tell Ric about being calm and Ric would say something back and we would have a verbal argument. And then soon there was a bump, and not long after that it looked like they were in an absolute Brawl. "
"We'd just roll around," said Flair, "wrestling on the floor like we're having a real wrestling match." Just entertain everyone. "
Kevin Greene smiles at fallen quarterback Steve Young of San Francisco in 1996. Greene topped the NFL that season at 14.5 at the age of 34 in sacks.
For those of you who were there every Sunday night after Panther won the home games - and Carolina was 9-0 at home this season, including the playoffs - it was just fun to watch. For the casual diners, it was a bit terrible when Flair and Greene could barely dodge the tables and knock the casual drink over during their brawls.
"Yeah, it was a fake," said Walls. "But it looked real every week."
And strangely enough, Flair said, it was Greene he had to keep under control during these false fights. Greene sometimes got into a passing stance and just exploded in flair trying to keep things on a reasonable level.
"He was a lot, man," said Flair, chuckling. “It was a handful. Yeah, he didn't slow that part at all. "
Flair and Greene eventually shared the ring in a couple of pro wrestling shows and always fought each other in tag team matches. Greene moved to Destin, Florida, and longtime Charlottean Flair has lived in the Atlanta area since about 2013, but they remained good friends. Flair continued to talk about Greene in the present moment as we spoke.
When Flair nearly died in 2017 and went into a medically induced coma, Greene Flair's wife, Wendy, sent a photo of the two men in the ring from the 1990s and wrote, “Show the Nature Boy. I want some of his a-- when he comes back. Sackmaster will make Naitch pay !!!! ”
Flair still has the photo. "You find out who your friends are at a time like this," Flair said. “Kevin was a friend. He only lived for soccer and his family. "
The $ 5,000 pocket bet
Lamar Lathon and Greene formed the Panthers' pass-rushing tandem "Salt and Pepper" in 1996 and combined 28 sacks in one season. No panther tandem has ever had a year like this. The two men have been close after a rocky start over the past 25 years.
"I didn't like him when he got here," said Lathon. “I was here for the first year of the Panthers in 1995 and was the front runner. But a friend of mine said to me, "I don't know what you're ranting about. This guy is going to make you better." So I took Kevin and Tara out for dinner.
As dinner progressed, the two men relaxed. Then Greene said to him as Lathon said, "Hey, listen up, Lamar mate, I don't mean to be rude to you in your own house. But mate, I'm going to run this team in sacks. I always lead my team in sacks. Everywhere. Every time. "
Lathon accepted the testimony as such a challenge that the two men bet $ 5,000 on it. "I said," KG, I'm the man here! "Recalled Lathon." I'm getting more money than anyone and I'll have more sacks than anyone. "
In their first game together, Lathon had three sacks and Greene had two. But at the end of the season, Greene led not only the Panthers, but the entire NFL with 14.5 sacks.
Lathon ended with 13.5 bags, which are number 2 in the league. "I paid my $ 5,000 and was happy to pay it," Lathon said with a laugh, "because it was the best year I've ever had."
In 1996, linebackers Kevin Greene (left) and Lamar Lathon dress up as Santa Claus for a photo of Charlotte Observer. Greene and Lathon were called "salt and pepper". That season they teamed up for 28 sacks, most by a duo in Carolina history.
The two were so happy with each other until the end of the year that in 1996 they dressed up as Santa Claus (with sacks, understood?) For The Observer. And Lathon stayed near Greene and only spoke to him last Wednesday. They told each other that at the end of the call they made love, like they always did.
Kevin Greene block
Walls, Carolina's Pro Bowl ending, thought so much of Greene that after Greene's last game in Carolina in 1999, he got him to sign one of his # 91 jerseys and hang it on the wall in Charlotte, where it was still hanging. Greene always took great pride in being the all-time number 1 linebacker in the NFL, and he signed the jersey: "Kevin Greene # 91 All Time NFL Sack Leader - Linebacker".
After his last game in 1999, former Panthers linebacker Kevin Greene signed one of his jerseys and gave it to teammate Wesley Walls. Walls still has the shirt on the wall of his Charlotte house.
Walls was 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, but he wondered how Greene (6-3, 247) could never get out of the box if he didn't want to.
"People always ask me about the toughest guy you've ever played against and my answer has always been Kevin Greene," Wall said. "You couldn't move it in a running game and you couldn't keep it off the field in a passing game. I remember we had to play 3-4 defense games before each warm-up game. The first time I got it barely touched it because we're playing a game and we're on the same team and he yells, "I need something, Walls!" You have to give me something! Come on down and hit me! "
"So I hit him a little harder, and that wasn't enough. He yells at me again. So I thought," Yeah, I have something for you "and really followed him on the last piece. And he stuffed me, and then he bumped me in the head and I walk into the locker room with something near a concussion and think now I have to play a game. The guy was unblockable. If I warmed up against him, the rest of the Good day. Man, I loved him. "
"The guy was a monster"
Winslow Oliver was a rookie jam and punt returner for the Panthers in 1996. He texted Greene just three days ago, catching up, hoping to plan another trip to Destin, Florida, where Greene and his family lived. The two sometimes also talked about their strong Christian faith.
When Kevin Greene (right) was playing for the San Francisco 49ers in 1997, he and Winslow shared Oliver a moment before the game.
However, in 1996, Oliver was a lightning-fast rewind blown into pass-coverage drills by Greene at the start of training camp. At this point, Greene was 34 years old and his strength had never been obscured by its back off the field, which he rarely had to do in the Panthers 3-4 scheme.
"I just killed him," said Oliver. “And so Kevin told me to stop driving a little slower. But one of the coaches heard it and winked at me, "Yeah, go ahead," and so I did. But then they whistled and that was over and it was time for the lightning pickup drill. I went to the end of the line and hid knowing what was coming.
"But Kevin didn't. He called me out and made me stand up against him in front and he just hit me. The guy was a monster. No one could stop him. And after all that he grinned and said," If I give you this next time say to stop, you better stop. "
Greene later gave Oliver a nickname. "You are not win-SLOW," he proclaimed. "You win FAST. I'll call you Winsfast from now on."
As part of their last text exchange a few days before Greene's death, Oliver said to Greene, "I'm so glad we were teammates, Bro!"
Greene replied, "What a ride, isn't it, Winsfast?"
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