Top 50 All-Time Bills, No. 30: FS Tony Greene

Safety Tony Greene was a ballhawking presence for the Bills during the 1970s. (Profootballhof.com)

FS Tony Greene (1971-1979) | 5'10", 170 pounds

Notable Achievements: One-time Pro Bowl Selection (1977), First-team All-Pro (1974)

Anthony Greene was born August 29, 1949 in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He graduated from Gaithersburg High School in 1966, and decided to stay in-state to attend the University of Maryland. Greene was a three-year player for the Terrapins and was named one of the team captains during his senior year. Following a good college career, Greene went undrafted in the 1971 NFL Draft. He decided to sign with the Buffalo Bills and went on to become a long-time starter for the team through the '70s. He spent nine seasons in Buffalo and finished his career as one of the best defensive backs in team history. Greene was given the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Distinguished Service Award in 1995, an honor given to former Bills for long and meritorious contributions to the franchise. He was also inducted into the Maryland Athletics Hall of Fame in 2007.

Career Highlights
After facing the disappointment of going undrafted in the 1971 NFL Draft, Greene was contacted by a number of NFL teams trying to secure his services. Greene felt the Bills gave him the best chance at making the team and forging an NFL career. It also helped that one of his former coaches at Maryland was now on the Bills' staff:

"Ralph Hawkins [an assistant coach with the Bills from 1969-71 and 1981-82] had been a coach at Maryland when I was there," remembered Greene.  "He was one of the main reasons I signed with Buffalo. I could have signed with several teams, including the Dallas Cowboys or Washington Redskins, two teams who had also contacted me, but I just felt as though I had a better chance of making it with the Bills. It just happened that I was in the right place at the right time." ~Legends of the Buffalo Bills by Randy Schultz, p. 70

That decision proved to be the right one, as Greene would not only make the team, but soon become one of the Bills' top defensive players. 

Greene didn't have prototypical size for an NFL player by any means, measuring in at 5'10" and a very light 170 pounds. His size never really slowed him down on the football field, but it sure did slow him in trying to get to the field for his first game. Prior to a 1971 pre-season game against the Saints, Greene was actually denied entrance to War Memorial Stadium because of his stature:

"The guard at the door didn't think I looked like a football player," recalled Greene, who was only 5'10" and weighed less than 170 pounds at the time. "One of the Bills trainers came out and told the guy who I was. He said he was sorry and I got in."

Despite that minor hiccup to the start of his career, Greene had no problem proving he was plenty big enough to have NFL success. After spending his first three seasons at cornerback and intercepting a total of four passes, Greene was moved to free safety prior to the 1974 season, and was also named a team captain. It was there that his career really took off. Greene had no qualms about the position switch because he felt his size wasn't a great fit for the Bills' bump-and-run coverage schemes and the receivers who were routinely bigger than he was. Plus, he certainly had the perfect mindset to be playing centerfield for a defense:

"It's a combination of a whole lot of things. You'd like to say you're good and can read offenses, but a lot of interceptions come off of bad throws. You've got to get into the area to make the reception and be quick and fast. I had some good coaching and could read offenses and where plays were going. You just have to give yourself an opportunity to get there." ~Then Levy Said to Kelly by Jim Gehman, p. 176

With that mindset, it was no surprise that Greene went on to have a great career at his new position. It was a surprise at how effective he became as a ballhawk in the Bills' secondary. During his first season as the starting FS, Greene went on to intercept nine passes, helping lead a resurgent Bills defense that was a major reason the team returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1966. The Bills went 6-2 in games where Greene had an interception that season, which was a good indicator of how important his production was. He was named a First-Team All-Pro for the season, but miraculously didn't earn a Pro Bowl invite. Greene backed up his monster season in 1974 with six interceptions the following year and five in 1976. He finally earned a Pro Bowl selection in 1977 after he once again intercepted nine passes. The safety would go on to play two more solid seasons for the Bills before retiring.  He finished with 37 career interceptions, which is still second on the Bills all-time list. 

Best Moment
In addition to being the Bills' second all-time leader in interceptions, Greene also holds the record for longest interception return in team history. On October 3, 1976, Greene intercepted the Chiefs' Tony Adams and returned it a franchise record 101 yards in a 50-17 Bills rout. To Greene, it might not even have been the most memorable return of his career:

"Again, it was just a case of being in the right place at the right time," stated Greene. "All I remember is that I caught the ball and just took off with it. A few key blocks were thrown and I was on my way. But actually, that wasn't as big as the one I had called back against the Miami Dolphins in Miami [back in 1974]. That one was for 105 yards. And it wasn't as easy to make it to the end zone in that one as it had been against the Chiefs. Unfortunately, it was called back because of penalty. 

"All I remember about it was that it was an awful long walk back to the other end of the Orange Bowl in that heat." ~Legends of the Buffalo Bills, p. 70

Parting Shot
Tony Greene went down as one of the most unheralded great defensive players in team history. His story of going from an undersized, undrafted free agent cornerback and becoming an All-Pro safety is one that many Bills fan should be aware of, and proud of. He was a team captain that really patrolled the back end of the Bills' secondary throughout the 1970s for a team that was filled with very good players. Despite all the obstacles he faced early in his career, Greene will be remembered as one of the best defensive backs to ever wear the red, white and blue in Buffalo.

Career Stats
128 games, 50 starts (unofficial)
37 interceptions (No. 2 in franchise history)
628 interception return yards (No. 2)
2 interception return touchdowns (No. 6)
101 yard interception return (Longest in franchise history)
13 fumble recoveries (No. 3)
87 fumble return yards (No. 4)
1 safety (Tied No. 2)
16 kick returns (No. 49)
385 kick return yards (No. 45)
24.1 yards per kick return (No. 13, minimum of 15 returns)

For those of you who are new to Rumblings, I began this list of my Top 50 All-Time Buffalo Bills last year to help celebrate 50 years of Bills football. Players I had ranked Nos. 31 to 50 can be found on the left side of the home page, or listed under the Top 50 All-Time Bills tag. Hope you will all enjoy the rest of the top 30 as I get back into writing them. You can also find my rationale for how I selected the players for this list and how they may be ranked here.

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