- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2008

Fate easily could have led Darrell Green to some career other than football and to some place other than Canton.

Green played more seasons and more games and intercepted more passes than anyone in the history of the Washington Redskins. He came to embody so much about the franchise that was good.

But destiny, at times, seemed to have something else in mind for Mr. Redskin.

Darrell Green, truck driver?

Life might have put Green behind the wheel rather than on the field had he not gotten over his homesickness and returned to Texas A&I to play football.

Darrell Green, Olympic track star?

Green at one point ranked second nationally to Carl Lewis, who in the 1980s became the top sprinter in the world.

Or - hold on to your burgundy and gold hats - Darrell Green, Los Angeles Raider?

The Raiders, picking two spots ahead of the Redskins in the first round of the 1983 draft, nearly chose Green. They ultimately selected center Don Mosebar, Green went to the Redskins, and the rest is record-making history.

Still, to listen to Green is to believe he was meant to wind up in Washington, a place where he’s been an integral part of the community for a quarter-century, a place that on Saturday will celebrate his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

“I had, unequivocally, the most special career in Redskins history,” Green said. “I’m from Houston, but I’m really from D.C. You’re thrust into a position, and you either deliver or you don’t.”

Green, now 48, always was the fastest kid around in his Houston neighborhood, but he wasn’t obviously a football player.

He was so small in high school - 5-feet-7, 135 pounds - that his mother, Gloria, refused to let him play organized football until the 11th grade because she was afraid he would get hurt.

Green still won’t say just how he managed to finagle his way into the game and onto the junior varsity at Jesse H. Jones High School. “I’m not even sure who signed the papers to let me play,” he said. “I might have forged ‘em. I don’t remember my mom signing ‘em.”

Promoted to the varsity as a senior, Green made All-City, but he was better known as a sprinter. He drew interest from colleges, but his scholarship offers all were for track and his divorced, working-class parents couldn’t pay for him to go to college.

Determined to play football, Green landed grant money with the help of Fred Jonas, the football coach at Texas A&I.

So Green headed off to the Division II school in Kingsville, about five hours from home - a move he wasn’t quite prepared to make.

He was so homesick that he tried to catch a bus back to Houston during two-a-days only to be dragged back to campus by a Javelinas trainer sent by Jonas to find the prize freshman.

Green went home for Thanksgiving and vowed never to return. He got a job driving a truck and took classes at a community college.

After 18 months, Green decided he missed football more than he disliked Kingsville, and he went back to A&I. He became an All-American cornerback and performed even better on the track, ranking second nationally in the 100 meters to Lewis, who went on to win five Olympic gold medals in running events.

“Darrell was an incredible athlete,” said Bobby Beathard, then the Redskins’ general manager. “When a guy is small, he has to be something special. Darrell certainly was.”

Special enough that the Redskins planned to select Green in the first round of the 1983 draft despite his 5-8, 170-pound frame. The Redskins, as Super Bowl champions, held the last pick of the round, and they were far from sure they would land him.

The Raiders, picking two spots earlier, also were very interested in Green, and he would have wound up in silver and black if the club’s scouting had been more thorough.

“The guy the Raiders drafted, Don Mosebar, was in the hospital with a back injury, but they didn’t know that,” said Charley Casserly, then Beathard’s assistant and eventually his successor. “If they had, they would’ve drafted Darrell.”

Mosebar recovered, played 12 years for the Raiders and reached the Pro Bowl three times.

Still, he was no Darrell Green, and Green was a Redskin. He wasn’t an immediate hit in training camp, even though he was penciled in to start since veteran corner Jeris White had begun what turned out to be a career-ending holdout.

“I was going back to my dorm crying because these receivers were beating me every day,” Green said. “I knew I had the talent. It was the frustration of trying to learn and figure it out. By the end of training camp, I felt I belonged.”

He proved he belonged in his first NFL game, a high-profile showdown with the Dallas Cowboys on “Monday Night Football.”

Green chased down Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett, one of the league’s fastest and best players, after a 77-yard sprint to prevent a touchdown.

Green says he in some ways wishes that play had never happened.

“That was just basic pursuit to the ball,” Green said. “Chasing Dorsett down put me on the scene, but suddenly I went from being too little to ‘he’s just a fast guy.’ People didn’t think I was a cover guy even though [defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon] was putting me on the best receiver every week by my second year.

“I loved the NFL’s Fastest Man races, but the real joy for me was covering Drew Pearson, Tony Hill, Mike Quick, Roy Green and later Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin.”

Green started every game as a rookie and the next year made the first of seven Pro Bowl appearances.

“A lot of gifted athletes aren’t good football players, but Darrell was an exception,” said Bubba Tyer, the Redskins’ longtime trainer. “He took care of his gift as good as anybody. And Darrell had a toughness.”

During the playoffs in the 1987 season, Green returned a punt 52 yards for a touchdown, providing the Redskins a 21-17 victory over the Chicago Bears - and one of the most electrifying moments in franchise history.

He pulled a muscle in his rib cage on his way to the end zone, but the next week he was back in the starting lineup for the NFC title game, making another game-turning play. Green prevented Darrin Nelson from catching a last-gasp pass at the goal line, allowing the Redskins to hang on to a 17-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings and return to the Super Bowl.

“Darrell was a freak of nature. As little as he was, being able to play out there in the land of the giants,” said defensive end Charles Mann, a teammate from 1983 to 1993.

Indeed, few players of that size could play at that position at all and none so well.

“Darrell had a unique ability to stay outside and still close out the inside because he had fantastic quickness and jumping ability,” said Emmitt Thomas, Green’s position coach from 1987 to 1994 and himself a Hall of Fame inductee this summer.

Said Casserly: “Darrell had tremendous speed, change of direction, quickness, acceleration and natural instincts, but he was never a technician. You would not look at Darrell and say this is how you backpedal. But the guy had tremendous competitiveness.”

And confidence. He never competed in the Olympics, but Green believes he would have won there too, noting that he already had beaten relay gold medalists Ron Brown and Sam Graddy.

“These guys got their golds, and I outran ‘em, so all things being equal, I’m an Olympian,” Green said. “I ran some incredible times. I do honestly believe that I was the fastest player in the history of the NFL. [Olympic champion] Bob Hayes would be the only other possibility.”

It soon became apparent to Green after he arrived in Washington that he couldn’t possibly leave. He never considered pursuing free agency, even after the Redskins crashed from perennial contenders during his first 10 years with the club to perennial pretenders during his final 10.

“I’m just Darrell Green, who my parents raised,” Green said. “I was never money hungry. I was like my dad, 30 years on the line. I was a worker.”

Late into his career, Green made a point of driving beat-up old cars rather than a sleek Ferrari.

“I always used Darrell as an example with our players,” Beathard said. “He was a first-round pick, and he was driving a used Toyota.”

Green’s current ride is a gas-conserving Prius.

“I didn’t try to be famous, but fame came,” Green said. “I won the NFL Man of the Year Award, and I said, ‘I don’t feel worthy of this, but I guess if I felt worthy, I’d probably act like I’m worthy and you wouldn’t be giving it to me.’ I tried consciously to represent the Green name, my extended family, our church. I was very conscious of my parents all my adult life, my siblings, my wife, my kids, all my associations.”

Those associations are topped by his Youth Life Foundation, which for 20 years has operated Learning Centers for underprivileged children.

“My life is my wife and kids, following Jesus and helping kids,” Green said. “One of our former students is a professor at a university. Another is a counselor at a charter school. I also have a kid who dropped out as a young boy. He murdered his girlfriend, and he’s in prison. He was with his girlfriend at the church where one of my former executive directors, Donnell Jones, is a pastor. They came to church that Sunday and both raised their hands saying they wanted to get their lives right. The next week, he shot her to death.”

Green didn’t write off the young man. He has visited him in prison. And he’s using his return to the spotlight since his Hall of Fame election in February to raise money for his foundation as well as that of longtime teammate and fellow inductee Art Monk.

“The more you really dig into it, the Hall of Fame just gets to be even more special, especially going in with Art, with whom I have so many synergies, and with Emmitt,” Green said. “I just had a gift. I say that humbly. I never thought it being exceptional. I did what I did. I made a Pro Bowl at 37, but I never thought about my age until I retired.

“When I played, I felt the grace of God was with me. And I wanted to get home to my wife and kids.”

And now that grace will be with him forever in Canton, too.

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