“I almost quit the team. I almost quit the University of Tennessee.” -Jabari Greer
In the toughest moment of his life at that point, former New Orleans Saint Jabari Greer turned to his family for support. Family always seems to be in the right place at the right time for Greer. Whether it was his grandparents, parents, siblings or his children, Greer found strength, stability and comfort in the people he was blessed to call his family. Only in hindsight can we see what a profound effect they each had in his journey to becoming a Super Bowl champion and beyond.
Life of a Saint: Jabari Greer
Although born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Jabari Greer spent most of his young life in Houston. It wasn’t until his family fell on some hard times that Greer left the metropolis and his grandparents were there to help. Greer explained, “Basically, we didn’t have enough money to stay in Houston. We had to move in with my grandmother and grandfather in Denmark, Tennessee, which was a population of 300. We went from 3,000,000 to 300.”
Greer would end up attending South Side High School in Jackson, Tennessee. As Greer continued to mature, the athletic accolades came in both football and track. Fortunately, Greer had the support he needed at home to prosper without getting full of himself. “My father was the most humble man I ever met in my life. For him, and for my mother, humility was something we practiced. Whenever I won those awards, it was great. But usually, I was up the next day mowing the lawn or washing windows. I never had the chance to really sit and think about the fact that I had just won a state championship, or I had just broken a record”, Greer shared.
The ‘T’ Flags
Shortly after his arrival into Tennessee, Greer noticed a curious number of flags on local cars with an orange ‘T’ on them. Greer stated, “One of my friends said, ‘That’s the University of Tennessee. You don’t know about that?’ From that point on, I knew I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to play in front of that many people. I wanted to be on that stage. That was the plan, but you have to keep in mind that I was in the eighth grade and I was 5’4” and 110 pounds. I did not have the stature to play for the University of Tennessee. Anytime I told someone that I would play for that school, nobody believed me except my parents. My parents were always supportive.”
Greer never wavered in his goals. He knew where he wanted to go to school and what it would take to get there. “In my mind, the natural progression was that I had to get a scholarship and that scholarship had to be from the University of Tennessee. That turned up my tenacity when it came to my focus.”
Greer would end up realizing his goals, attending the University of Tennessee and not unlike his high school career, would end up flourishing in both football and track.
Very Local Inspiration
When asked who the most important person was in his voyage to becoming and NFL player, Jabari Greer gave a lot of praise to his parents. Ultimately, however, he opted to select his brother, Deundre Greer, for several reasons. “My brother Deundre was our star quarterback. When I was a freshman, he was a senior. He could have gone to any college he chose. But because of grades and decisions he made, he was unable to go there. But we were always competitive. We played sock basketball in our room. We played hallway football. We played all these games where we would literally pummel each other. We would always compete. I saw him have success, but I also saw that success leave his grasp.”
Greer used both the successes and hardships he saw his brother go through as motivation. He then continued, “I think that our relationship, our competitive nature, our respect for each other and his motivation, seeing something in me that I didn’t see in myself, made him the most influential person in my career.”
Another Instrumental Sibling
The road as a Tennessee Volunteer was not always easy. In fact, for Greer it came dangerously close to ending prematurely. Greer said, “I almost quit the team. I almost quit the University of Tennessee. I was a sophomore and I had earned my very first opportunity to start at right corner. We had this young four or five-star recruit named Jabari Davis, same name. That was unique because I had gone my whole life never knowing another Jabari. He was out of Tucker, Georgia and he was a halfback, a 220-pound freshman. Jabari Davis takes a pitch left and basically goes all the way down the field. I see him and I’m running after him. I was the last line of defense. I put my shoulder down and I see Jabari put his shoulder down. Next thing I know, I see nothing but blue sky and clouds. Next thing I know, I heard a collective ‘Ooh’ and then he’s in the end zone. He ran me over and kept on going. I went to the sideline and our middle linebacker was chewing me out. I had just been run over. I didn’t want to hear it. I needed some space. Then he took some Gatorade and just throws it in my face, utterly disrespectful. But that’s what happens on the sideline sometimes. Emotions run high. I was truly humiliated twice, back-to-back. I remember walking home with my sister. She was there. She had come up there to go to school. She saw the whole thing and I remember walking back to my room and just crying. I was saying that I couldn’t do this anymore because it was too much. I was going to quit the team because I felt I didn’t have what it took to compete at that level against those type of athletes. But I’m grateful and thankful that I didn’t.”
Greer Enters the NFL
“I was hopeful that I would be drafted. I had a lot of tape, had gone to a big school and had played with a lot of guys that had gone early, first or second round. So, I thought I would be drafted. But I had a horrible combine. Ultimately, when it was time for me to show up, I didn’t show up. I wasn’t upset but I was motivated”, Greer remembered. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for him to catch on in the NFL, making a home with the Buffalo Bills.
Greer then laughed as he shared, “I remember after that, one of my favorite uncles called me and asked me where I was going. I told him I was going to the Buffalo Bills. He got quiet for a second and then said, ‘Ooh boy. It’s gonna be cold up there!’ That was the first time it hit me that it was going to be cold up there.” Despite the cold, Greer and the Buffalo Bills made a good pair and things progressively improved from year to year for the 5’11” cornerback.
While he continued to enjoy success on the field, Jabari Greer always had something weighing on his mind: his children. When asked what is was like playing in the NFL with children at home, Greer shared, “It was heartbreaking. It really was because I was a single father. Me and their mother weren’t together. They were still in Knoxville with their mom while I was in Buffalo playing. So, I had all this outward success. I had made it. I was playing in the NFL. Yet, I could not be the father that I wanted to be for these two children. I couldn’t tuck them in. I couldn’t comfort them. I couldn’t put Band-Aids on their wounds when they fell.” But Greer realized that the sacrifices he was making were for the good of his family, so he made sure to make the most of his time away from his little ones.
Greer in the Big Easy
“When I was in Buffalo, I would have to plan out my week to hear Jazz. On Monday’s, there was a place across town I could hear Jazz. On Thursdays, there was another place I could hear jazz.”
In possibly the most obvious statement ever, Greer did not have this problem in New Orleans. Jabari Greer felt right at home in New Orleans.
As great as it was to walk down Frenchman Street on a random Tuesday afternoon and hear the live jazz flowing out of all the different restaurants and bars, there was a much more important change in this new home: expectations. Greer explained, “In Buffalo, even if we were winning, whenever a team started to mount a comeback, there was a palatable feeling on the sideline of, ‘Here we go again.’ When I went to New Orleans, there was never a time on that sideline when an opponent was making a comeback that we ever felt like, ‘Here we go again.’ We always had a dominating mentality and that starts from the top. That’s one thing I love about New Orleans is that no matter how far they’re down, they’re always in it. That’s a mentality that 90% of the NFL doesn’t have.”
Super Bowl XLIV
Jabari Greer would start the 2009 season with high-level play and the Saints were rolling. But a mid-season groin injury would sideline the safety for seven games. “It was great to win but, as a competitor, you start to think, ‘Do they really need me?’ That was something I had to deal with”, Greer recalled. But the time away allowed players like Usama Young and Malcolm Jenkins to contribute and keep the Saints undefeated until week 15 versus Dallas.
Greer came back with even more focus. He added, “When I came back and got back into my role of that man-to-man, quick, ‘in your pocket’ type corner, I realized I had value.” Greer and the Saints would ultimately finish the journey they started that September, beating the Colts in Super Bowl 44. As far as the game itself, Greer has mentioned several times since then that his fondest memory of his career was standing on the field, watching the confetti fall on his family.
While the Saints typically had the offensive power to compete on the highest levels, one of the missing pieces to achieving that elusive Super Bowl ring was usually a great secondary. Greer credited both the talent and the personalities of this group that ultimately helped push New Orleans over the top. “There was no jealousy. We genuinely enjoyed our time together. We had a real friendship. To this day, these guys are still my brothers. Usama Young, Leigh Torrence, Tracy Porter, Randall Gay, Roman Harper, Malcolm Jenkins, Reggie Jones. That brotherhood we had was incredible.” Added to that was a coaching staff that allowed the players to ‘be who they were’, as long as they got the job done. Greer cited that Buffalo had a more ‘by the book’ type approach to coaching.
Greer Beyond the NFL
Jabari Greer would go on to have four more successful years in New Orleans before leaving the game in 2013 after a gruesome knee injury. Unlike what most would expect, Greer viewed the injury as a blessing. Greer explained, “Football is a bubble. When you’re in the locker room, you’re not a part of real life. You’re not experiencing real life, real struggles and growing as a man and rightfully so. Football is so demanding, you have to be encapsulated. I always felt like football covered all sins. When I hurt my leg, I was forced to come to grips with who I was as a man, who I was as a father, as a husband and as a friend. There were so many times when my friends and family gave me the excuse to isolate. They would tell me, ‘I understand. You’re busy.’ But the truth was, I was just isolated. I was so selfishly involved in me and what I was doing that I wasn’t invested in building those relationships. When I got injured and had to come to grips with who I was at that time, I didn’t like it.” Greer leaned on his faith and, of course, his family to help him transition into the man he wanted to become.
Aside from the struggle of internal growth, Greer also needed to fill the professional void left by the NFL. Greer turned to the world of football analysis. He shared, “Once you leave the best seat in the house, once you have 80,000 people screaming for you after you make a play, it’s hard to sit behind a desk and type up quarterly reports. That transition is something a lot of players have problems with. For me, being able to be under the lights, when the director says, ‘We’re going live in 5, 4, 3..’, and I have to be able to be concise, to be clear, relatable and funny, it creates that same type of adrenaline rush that I got from the game.” Greer found the thrill without the aches and pains of the NFL.
Even after football, the same mentality of getting better has stayed with Greer. “I think that the idea of keeping it moving, accomplishing something and keeping it moving, is something that has stayed with me. To this day, I’m really afraid to rest on the things I have done. I think it’s a great trait, but I also think it can be bad because you never take a step back and truly appreciate the things God has done in your life.”
As time goes on, Greer continues to find his way down a more balanced path and, without a doubt, his family will be by his side every step of the way.