I've been doing this "Catching Up With" series since I started the blog last year, and pretty much since the first one, I've been wanting to track down former quarterback David Greene. As it turned out, he tracked me down (or at least, the publicist for his charity did) last week, and we chatted about everything from the great charity work he does to the future of the Cocktail Party game to his recent retirement from the NFL. It's a pretty long interview, so this might be one you want to print out and read somewhere comfortable (or at least take it back to your desk and pretend you're reading some important work documents so your boss doesn't get wise to your slacking off)...
David Hale: You were out doing a little promotion for your charity event today along with Matt and Jon Stinchcomb. For the fans, it's called Countdown to Kickoff and it brings current and former players and fans together to raise money for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and the Georgia Transplant Foundation. What's it been like for you coming back and working on that project?
David Greene: It's been amazing really. Last year was the first year I was really involved from the very beginning, and I was amazed at how well they have put this thing together and the support and the amount of fans that show up and the sponsorships we get from corporations. Last year, I think we doubled the proceeds we had the year before. I think last year alone we raised almost $200,000, which is really impressive for any charity being in its third year. So it's really been exciting to be a part of it, and the part that I think is really neat is the way that we can come together and sort of bring together the Georgia fans and Georgia players and actually be able to raise money in the process. It's a win-win for everybody because if you go down this year and see the interaction between the players and the fans, and at the same time we're raising money in the process, it works out good for everybody.
DH: After having moved around a lot to a bunch of NFL cities, it must be nice to come back and be surrounded by so many Georgia fans who probably treat you like you never left.
DG: That's the great thing about it is once you're a Dawg, you're always a Dawg, and we're obviously extremely appreciative of that. And what's neat for us is the way we get current and former players together. We think that's a great aspect where you can have guys who are playing right now alongside guys who were on the 1980 championship team. It hits all age groups as far as who we're appealing to because we're appealing to the kid that has never seen Scott Woerner play, but he knows Mohamed Massaquoi. Well, he can get his autograph, and the dad who was in school with Scott Woerner can get his autograph. It's neat how it appeals to all age groups.
DH: What's it like for you to be around the team these days?
DG: It's good because the atmosphere is pretty much the same because it's the same coaching staff, and obviously it brings back a lot of good memories of exciting times, but it is different because for so many years I was used to coming back and knowing players. Now, this is my fifth year away from it, so I really don't know but just a handful of the guys personally. So when I come back, it's almost like I'm introducing myself to these guys because they weren't there when I played.
DH: What's the reaction you get from that new crop of players? Are they excited to get to meet legendary quarterback David Greene?
DG: Oh no, that's definitely not it. I think it goes both ways. I'm excited to meet the guys that are playing now, and probably some of those guys watched us play when they were in high school.
DH: Well, on the subject of this year's team, I'm curious to get your thoughts on Joe Cox. A lot of people seem to want to make the comparisons between him and your longtime backup, D.J. Shockley, because both waited so long to finally get their chance to start. Do you think those are fair comparisons?
DG: I think they both had experience starting and playing in games. They've been around for a long time, know the offense backwards and forward. And I know Joe is extremely confident in what he can do, and that's half the battle is believing you can do it. Obviously Shock did that. He won an SEC championship the year he started. But I think Joe's going to have a great year. He does a great job of running the offense. He understands his ability and who he is as a quarterback and that's a big key.
DH: There's been a lot of talk recently about moving the Georgia-Florida game out of Jacksonville. As a veteran of a number of those games, including some tough losses, do you think playing it in Jacksonville is unfair for Georgia?
DG: I don't really think it's a disadvantage. I understand it is closer to Gainesville than it is to Athens, but you also could make the argument that Coach Richt has had a lot of success on the road. So I don't think that really matters, plus the stadium is split half Georgia and half Florida fans.
I kind of like the way it's played, but who knows? It's hard to say. Obviously the travel is a little more for us, but we travel for so many games that I really don't think it's that big of a disadvantage.
DH: Speaking of Florida, the Gators just won their second national title. LSU has two in the past few years as well. You were on the Georgia team that came the closest to getting to that level, but there have certainly been a few that have had opportunities. Why do you think the Bulldogs have continued to come up short under Mark Richt?
DG: We've kind of been in a position where we've been right there tinkering on being the best. There's been plenty of years since Coach Richt's been here when we've finished in the top five, and it's just been one or two games that have kept us out of the big games. One of the main things ever since we've been there is we've got to win the big games. We've got to win all of them. I don't know the last time we actually been Florida and Tennessee in the same year. I never did it. It was always one or the other. Eventually we're going to have to win against a national championship contender. We've got to be able to pull them out.
And we play in a tough league. Florida's won national championships. LSU's won national championships. But there's no real slouch. Nobody's in the division that is a gimme. Every single game is hard throughout, so you've really got to play a perfect season. That one year when we went 13-1, we didn't make it to the national championship game. We lost to Florida. It kept us out. So it's hard to say what they've done and what we haven't done. Some of it is a little bit of luck. LSU, fourth down and they throw a fade route for 40 yards and win the game. It's a game of inches, but it's also a little bit of a game of luck and you have to hope that it falls on your side.
DH: Were you surprised at the anger that some fans -- probably a pretty high number of fans -- had about how last season unfolded? The expectations were set so high, but that seemed like the first time there was real anger on the part of a big group of Georgia fans aimed at Coach Richt and his staff.
DG: It's a tough situation to be in because the expectations are set so high year in and year out. I wouldn't necessarily say I was surprised because he's done such an excellent job. He's got a tremendous coaching staff, top-five recruiting classes every year. There's a lot of expectations, but if there's any coach that can pull it off, it's him. He's been a part of national championships, he knows what it looks like, he knows what it takes. He was a part of the best college football that was ever played at Florida State. But he's just got to put it all together. When you have those unbelievable seasons, there's a lot of things that have to fall into place. You've got to keep guys healthy and you've got to win the close ball games. You've got to find a way to do it.
DH: While the on-field outcome wasn't exactly what everyone had hoped last year, the Bulldogs did end up with a quarterback going No. 1 overall in the NFL draft. Have you talked with Matthew Stafford since he was drafted about what it's like playing in the NFL? Have you passed along any advice?
DG: I've talked to him a little bit. Nothing too in depth, I just congratulated him. The main part for him is just to understand that there are going to be a lot of bumps in the road. He's playing at the pinnacle of football. He was the first pick of the draft, so there's going to be a ton of scrutiny, there's going to be a lot on his shoulders. You've just got to be able to take it in stride and not take yourself too, too serious. You just have to understand that there's going to be a lot of scrutiny and hype, and you just have to concentrate on getting better and stick with it.
DH: Speaking of the NFL, after four years, you decided to retire this offseason. What was it that made you decide to give it up?
DG: I got to the point where I just got tired of moving around from city to city. I was with the Colts last year, and in January, it had just been eating at me a little bit. I got a call from the Giants wanting me to come up there and work out, and I really just didn't want to go. I was kind of dreading it. I wasn't looking forward to doing it anymore. I eventually had to just be honest with myself. I wasn't enjoying it as much or looking forward to running and jumping on an airplane for a tryout. When you've already got that feeling, you're not going to be successful at it because at the NFL level, you've got to be at the top of your game, you've got to love it, you've got to have passion and want to work hard and be the best at it. For whatever reason, between moving places, I just got burned out a little bit and I just said to myself, I think it's time to call it quits. I've got a family, I have an 18-month-old son, and I just wanted to settle down in one place. So I'm back in Gwinnett.
DH: So what's in the future for you now that you're done with the NFL?
DG: Right now I'm actually working with Matt Stinchcomb. We have a risk management company. I was a risk management major at Georgia, so that was kind of a natural fit. We're excited about where things are going. Our company is only about six months old, but things have been going well. We're excited about the opportunity and the possibilities out there.
DH: Is there any chance we'll see you back in football one day, maybe as a coach?
DG: I think I always want to be involved with it in some way. I don't think I would ever completely rule out coaching just because I love the game so much. But at this point, I don't really think I would want to be a coach. I have family, and I know that in the fall when you're a coach, you really never get to see your family, and I want to spend as much time with them as possible right now. Of course I love the game, and I would love to help out, but maybe a local high school team or something like that.