- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2001

How many times over the years have we wondered if Darrell Green was near the end? The first time for me was in 1989, when he missed the second half of the season with a fractured wrist.

"It was bound to catch up with him sooner or later," I told myself. "People his size [5-8, 180] just don't last in pro football. One of these days he'll hurt his knee, and that will be it for him."

He made the Pro Bowl the following two seasons.

The next time I wondered about Darrell was in '92, the year he was sidelined nine games with a fractured forearm. "He's 32," I told myself. "How much longer can he last?"

After the injury healed, he started every game more than 100 straight until Deion Sanders supplanted him last season.

Then came that awful stretch in '95, when he gave up some key completions in the late going including a 43-yard jump-ball touchdown to Denver's Rod Smith that cost the Redskins the game.

"You begin to wonder if maybe, at 34, he's becoming too easy a mark," I wrote. ". . . Painful as it is to admit, it could be that he's beyond the difference-making stage."

The following week he intercepted a pass in overtime and ran for the winning score with linebacker Rod Stephens picking him up and carrying him the last two yards.

That was when I gave up trying to predict Darrell Green's retirement date, because some athletes and he's one of the chosen few simply defy logic. Darrell will be through, I decided, when he says he's through. And the other day he said he's through, so I guess he's through.

I have to admit, I wasn't sure what to make of him when he joined the team in '83. It was obvious he had speed to burn, but I remember Dan Marino and the Dolphins coming to RFK Stadium for a preseason contest and whipping up on the Redskins, 38-7. Darrell sure didn't look like a future Hall of Famer that night.

He learned fast, though. That was his game speed. It tends to be forgotten now, but one of his victims in those NFL Fastest Man competitions was Ron Brown, who ran on America's 4x100 relay team in the '84 Olympics. And everybody, of course, still talks about the night Darrell caught Tony Dorsett from behind. No one caught Tony Dorsett from behind. The season before (1982), he'd set a record with a 99-yard run from scrimmage. But Darrell had a gear even Dorsett didn't.

I was just a couple of years out of college, covering my first pro beat, when the Patriots' Raymond Clayborn gave me one of my earliest pro football lessons. "Everybody knows cornerbacks are the best athletes on the field," he said one day. And although I'd never thought about it before, it didn't take me long to realize he was right. What cornerbacks are asked to do play tag with speedy receivers, down after down after down requires more athleticism than any other job in the game.

Clayborn lasted 15 years. Impressive. Green is beginning his 19th season. Astounding. And both hail from Texas (Ray is from Fort Worth, Darrell from Houston), which reminds me of something an NFL coach, Joe Stydahar, said back in the '40s. Football is a tough sport, he said, "that's why you have so many Texans in pro ball fellows like Sammy Baugh, who have roughed it on a ranch and are rugged. Take the Texans out, and pro football would have a tough time surviving."

Darrell didn't exactly spend his childhood branding cattle. In fact, he was still playing J.V. football in his junior year in high school. But some of that Texas toughness must be in his genes for him to have lasted this long given his smallish dimensions.

The timing of his retirement lends itself to all kinds of speculation. Wasn't it just 15 months ago, at a news conference to announce his new 5-year contract, that Darrell said, "I think it would take a blind, deaf man not to realize that this business, this organization is going places"?

Where did all that enthusiasm go? Did one circus-like 8-8 season and one boot camp under Marty Schottenheimer drain it out of him? Or is he just feeling twinges of mortality after being relegated to second string behind rookie Fred Smoot? Drill Sergeant Marty didn't show him much deference, that's for sure. Having Darrell field punts during camp was a needless display of the new coach's authority.

It's time for the Redskins to do the right thing. In all their years of existence 70 and counting, going back to the Boston days they've officially retired only one number, Baugh's 33. For a franchise that has seen as much glory as this one, that's not nearly enough.

So how about starting to rectify the situation on Dec. 23, when Darrell Green plays in front of the home fans for the last time (barring a playoff game)? How about retiring Darrell's No. 28 on that day with the promise of more to come?

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