Jabari Greer’s coverage skills land him in Saints Hall of Fame
Jabari Greer is used to being in the spotlight by himself.
He was one of the best cover cornerbacks in New Orleans Saints history, regularly being asked to defend opponents’ best receiver one-on-one.
So it was fitting that Greer had the spotlight to himself Thursday afternoon as he was introduced as the only member of the Saints Hall of Fame Class of 2023. He is the first solo inductee since defensive end Will Smith was inducted posthumously in 2016.
Greer, who played with the Saints from 2009-13 and was a defensive leader on the 2009 Super Bowl champion team, will be inducted December 8 and honored two days later during New Orleans’ game against Carolina in the Caesars Superdome.
In addition to Greer, former videographers Steve Paretti (WDSU-TV) and Bob Parkinson (WWL-TV) were introduced as co-recipients of the Joe Gemelli “Fleur de Lis” award for contributions to the betterment of the Saints franchise.
“Playing on an island in front of 85,000 people with the fear of being burned in front of your family is real,” Greer said. “Having your nearest teammate 10 yards away from you and one of the world’s best athletes is about to come at you full speed is a challenge.”
Greer, 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, entered the NFL when the Buffalo Bills signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee in 2004. His introduction to the league came when a Bills van transported him and 14 other undrafted free agents to an offseason workout.
“I told myself, somebody was not going to make it,” Greer recalled, “but it ain’t going to be me.”
Greer said his confidence came from “ignorance of not understanding the enormity of the situation.”
After five seasons in Buffalo, Greer found himself on the free-agent market. He visited Detroit, Cleveland and Tampa Bay. After each visit he called home to his wife Katrina (who passed away three years ago) to say he had found their new home – and each time she told him “to just wait.”
It turns out that after the third visit Greer “didn’t have a place.”
But the next day Greer’s agent told him that the Saints wanted to fly him in for a visit.
New Orleans had gone to the NFC Championship Game in the 2006 season, but slipped to 7-9 and 8-8 the next two seasons.
“We needed to get better defensively,” said head coach Dennis Allen, who was the defensive backs coach then. “We wanted to play a more aggressive, attacking style. We needed a cornerback who could go out and cover.”
The Saints set their sights on free agent Ron Bartell, who “looked the part, according to Allen,” but Bartell re-signed with the Rams.
Plan B was Greer and the two sides agreed on a contract. Greer said he was “at peace” about the decision, but still was “apprehensive” about joining an organization that did not have an impressive history of producing top-flight defensive backs.
But Greer’s agent and his father advised him to “go and change that.”
A year earlier the Saints had drafted Port Allen native Tracy Porter in the second round and he and Greer gave defensive coordinator Gregg Williams a pair of cover cornerbacks that enabled Williams to play with the aggression that head coach Sean Payton was seeking.
In addition to the Super Bowl season, the Saints made the playoffs in three of the other four seasons during Greer’s tenure. He started 60 of the 63 games in which he played, made nine interceptions, had 68 passes defenses, one forced fumble, one recovery and 290 tackles (227 solo).
But Greer’s value came in an area that’s difficult if not impossible to quantify – blanketing receivers one on one so quarterbacks have to look elsewhere for a pass-completion opportunity, while leaving 10 teammates free to defend the rest of the field.
Allen called Greer “a self-made player and a self-made man,” adding that he had “the best feet of any corner I’ve ever seen.”
The coach said some players are “rules guys” and others are “guideline guys.” Rules guys “have to do everything exactly how you want,” but guideline guys demonstrate the intelligence and instincts to earn the privilege of bending the rules judiciously.
Allen initially thought Greer was going to be a rules guy, but he quickly proved to be a guideline guy. “Give him some thoughts on how to do it,” Allen explained, “then let him work his craft.”
Greer will be the 11th person inducted individually in the 34 classes and the 11th member of the Super Bowl selected. He will be the 54th player to be inducted and join two executives – late owner Tom Benson and late team president Jim Finks – and two coaches – former head coach Jim Mora and former defensive coordinator Steve Sidwell – as inductees.
Paretti, who was born and raised in New Orleans and graduated from UNO, and Parkinson, a native of Bethesda, Maryland who graduated from Loyola University New Orleans, both covered the Saints for more than 20 years.
They are the 35th and 36th recipients of the Gemelli Award, the 11th and 12th members of the media to receive it and the first two photographers not employed by the organization to be so honored.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…