- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2000

Washington Redskins cornerback Darrell Green found comfort on the football field yesterday. His paradise for 17 years has become a refuge.

Green practiced for the first time since the death of his father, Leonard Green, on July 28. It felt good to be back among his teammates and friends. After 11 days of falling into a "grief hole" while staying with his family outside Houston, Green realized returning to Redskin Park was a needed step to overcoming his loss.

"I didn't want to come back. You don't care. You just grieve. Our family is not rich people, but nobody went to work," he said. "My pastor called and said I had to come home. When I came here it was very emotional. I just couldn't talk about it. But when I got out [to the field] I said 'I'm so glad I came back.' "

The memories flowed easily for Green. The time his dad took him for ice cream after a nose injury needed stitches. Learning to play golf together. Buying his father a car in 1998 that was the first new vehicle Leonard ever owned. The father winning a Darrell Green jersey at a charity golf tournament that Green chuckled over. "Everybody thought we'd made it up."

They were the same kind of memories many sons recall about their fathers. Mostly little things that add up to a lifetime of love. Green's parents divorced when he was 10 years old, but the five brothers and two sisters remained close to their father. Green took his sons to visit their grandfather in June knowing there wasn't much time remaining.

"We'd jump off a house for this guy," Green said. "He was a hero to us. It just crushes us. My dad had a pretty rough life. He didn't know his own dad, but he did a great job with [his children].

"We learned about being respectful. Work hard. Believe in yourself. Don't steal. Don't buy stuff somebody stole. If you drive a garbage truck or are a pharmacist, be the best you can be."

Mostly, Green remembered that his father believed a 5-foot-8 cornerback could play professional football when few others did. Green has played a team-record 250 games.

"He was the only adult I respected who never told me I was too little to play football," Green said. "I think if he told me it would have crushed me. He said 'You can play.' That meant a lot to me."

Green faces a crossroads in his life. At 40, he will become a reserve for the first time despite winning the team's fastest man competition May 30. Green hasn't set a retirement timetable, but knows it isn't far away. Maybe that's why he's constantly mentoring young players like a father telling tales to the son.

"Darrell's always 'the man.' He's still positive. He's still teaching," cornerback Champ Bailey said.

Coach Norv Turner said he won't determine whether Green will play against New England on Friday until tomorrow. However, Turner said he fully supported Green's lengthy absence.

"When you're in that situation you can't remember football," Turner said. "Having been in that situation, I don't care if it's semi-expected, fully-expected, it's a real, real tough situation."

Teammates and coaches supported Green throughout the day with personal stories and condolences.

"Try and remember the good times you spend with your father," said defensive end Bruce Smith, whose father died May 27.

Green said he was overwhelmed by condolences, saying it was comforting to know he wasn't alone.

"I never realized every letter, word or flower was like a cup of water after being in the desert for 300 years," Green said. "Every kind word meant the world. You just don't know the pain you go through. It's the worst."

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