Re­ceiver failed to live up to his high ex­pec­ta­tions

Regina Leader-Post - - Sports - By NICK MILIOKAS for the Leader-Post

If the Cana­dian Foot­ball Hall of Fame were to ac­knowl­edge ath­letes whose du­bi­ous dis­tinc­tion is that, for one rea­son or an­other, they failed to live up to their con­sid­er­able po­ten­tial, Sammy Greene would be a lock. I know it. You know it. He knows it. “I should’ve been one of the great ones,’’ he says, and he’s right.

Greene was a prod­uct of the Univer­sity of Ne­vada-Las Ve­gas, a mid­dle-round draft choice of the NFL’s Mi­ami Dol­phins, and a CFL re­ceiver whose en­tire ca­reer, alas, came down to one spec­tac­u­lar but short­lived sea­son with the B.C. Li­ons in 1983 and a squan­dered sec­ond chance with the Saskatchew­an Roughrid­ers in 1984.

Sud­den Sam, as we called him in those days, had good hands, quick feet and an ad­dic­tion to al­co­hol and drugs. Look­ing back on it now, Greene de­scribes him­self as “a loser,” a pro­fes­sional ath­lete with “a quit­ter’s men­tal­ity, be­cause quit­ting be­comes easy and nat­u­ral af­ter a while,” and a league-wide rep­u­ta­tion as some­body who was un­sta­ble, un­pre­dictable, un­re­li­able: a dude with a bad at­ti­tude.

“Peo­ple were never quite sure what I was go­ing to do,” Greene said in a tele­phone in­ter­view ear­lier this month, and un­for­tu­nately he wasn’t re­fer­ring strictly to de­fen­sive backs on the other side of the line of scrim­mage. He was talk­ing about his own gen­eral man­agers, coaches and team­mates as well, the peo­ple who held his foot­ball fu­ture in their ten­u­ous grasp and could spike it on a whim at a mo­ment’s no­tice.

You could never be sure what Greene was go­ing to say, ei­ther. Upon his re­lease by the Roughrid­ers, he made a com­ment about an atomic bomb be­ing dropped on Regina and caus­ing dam­age in the amount of some­thing less than a dol­lar.

Greene flat de­nies it now and he won­ders aloud if, per­haps, he was quoted out of con­text, a help­less vic­tim of some un­scrupu­lous, op­por­tunis­tic ink-stained wretch who would write (prac­ti­cally) any­thing to sell news­pa­pers. “Or, maybe I was frus­trated, maybe I was an­gry,” he says. “You could’ve at­trib­uted any state­ment to me, be­cause I was a flaky ath­lete and I said some crazy things.”

It could be that he sim­ply doesn’t re­mem­ber. It is not out­side the realm of pos­si­bil­ity that he was drunk or stoned, or both.

“I had a prob­lem with drugs and al­co­hol,” Greene says with no hes­i­ta­tion. “I found my­self need­ing some­thing other than foot­ball. When­ever I crashed, that was the thing I went back to: the drugs and the al­co­hol. Painkiller­s. Co­caine. You name it. Any­thing I could get. Go down to the near­est bar. You’d find me some­where.

“I never hit rock bot­tom,” he says. “Some­thing or some­one al­ways came to res­cue me. I’ve been res­ur­rected so many times . . . I al­ways found peo­ple who were not like me.

“Those days are be­hind me now. I’ve cleaned my­self up,” he says. “But it’s been rough, and it’s al­ways go­ing to be with me. I still fight the demons. I still hear the same old ques­tion. ’Sam, what hap­pened to you?’ Drugs and al­co­hol.”

Greene is 47 years old. He shares a res­i­dence with a male friend in Belling­ham, Wash., and earns his keep do­ing se­cu­rity work at a small casino in a shop­ping mall. His at­ten­tion fo­cused on a television mon­i­tor, he ob­serves hu­man be­hav­iour through the eyes of a strate­gi­cally placed sur­veil­lance cam­era, “watch­ing peo­ple steal,” he says.

Once a week, Greene re­turns to B.C. to visit his chil­dren. He has two sons by his sec­ond wife. They are 12 years old and eight. They live in Co­quit­lam, and all they know about their fa­ther’s pro­fes­sional foot­ball ca­reer, and his fight with drugs and al­co­hol, are the things they have been told.

“I’m glad they didn’t see that. It would’ve hurt them,” Greene says. “As long as they didn’t see it . . . But hear­ing is half-be­liev­ing.”

There was a time in the 1990s when Sud­den Sam an­swered to Rev­erend Sam and while he is not or­dained, he has done min­istry work for the Pen­te­costal church, of­fer­ing what­ever as­sis­tance he could to “peo­ple you step over” in the streets of down­town Van­cou­ver and later in Belling­ham.

“I found the Lord. It turned my life around and I wanted to give some­thing back to Him,” Greene says. “I could reach out to th­ese peo­ple. I could talk to them. It was quite an ex­pe­ri­ence, and there were times when I thought, ’Sam, this could eas­ily have been you.’ ’’

By his own count, Greene had at least a cup of cof­fee with a dozen dif­fer­ent teams in the NFL, CFL and USFL. Two decades have passed, and while he has fond mem­o­ries of a 113-yard kick­off re­turn for the Li­ons, and an 80-yard in-your-face touch­down re­cep­tion against B.C. as a Roughrider, there are also nights when he lies awake, un­able to sleep, haunted by the ghost of what might have been and tor­mented by the spirit of great ex­pec­ta­tions un­ful­filled.

“The peo­ple up there they know my name and what I’m ca­pa­ble of, but I never de­liv­ered. I self-de­struc­ted. They’ve all gone on to bet­ter things, but they didn’t take me with them,” Greene says. “I built B.C. Place. I was the one who opened up the sta­dium with a whole new at­ti­tude.

“When I went to Saskatchew­an,” he says, “I wanted to do the same thing for the Roughrid­ers. I wanted to res­ur­rect that fran­chise, too. But they didn’t give me a chance to ma­ture. I wish they’d given me more time. There should have been more pa­tience on both sides. They wanted some­thing to hap­pen real fast and I wasn’t able to give it ’em like that. I don’t blame ’em. The game of foot­ball is a busi­ness. When I came to Saskatchew­an, ev­ery­body was on the bub­ble. Time was run­ning out. We were in the fourth quar­ter.

“Of all the teams, Saskatchew­an was my favourite,” he says. “I loved Saskatchew­an. The fans in Saskatchew­an are great. They’re al­ways there for you. They wel­comed me with open arms and I dis­ap­ponted them. I dis­ap­pointed my­self. I never got back the great­ness I had in B.C. I just never got it back. I gave up on my­self for some rea­son. I’m very sorry about that. I’d like to apol­o­gize to the fans in Saskatchew­an.”

Leader-Post files

Sammy Greene takes a break dur­ing a Roughrid­ers prac­tice in 1984.

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