Darrell Green couldn’t have asked for more from the final day of his 20-year career with the Washington Redskins.
It began with an emotional pregame ceremony that made the 42-year-old cornerback cry. It included a 35-yard sprint on a punt return in a 20-14 victory that put an end to a 10-game losing streak to the Dallas Cowboys. It ended with a 40-minute postgame victory lap in which he greeted fans who stuck around FedEx Field to pay tribute to the seven-time Pro Bowl player.
“I felt lots of people were really connecting with Darrell Green the man and not so much Darrell Green the football player,” Green said in his postgame news conference, still wearing his No. 28 jersey but with burgundy and gold beads around his neck and red and yellow roses on the podium in front of him. “That was incredible. I don’t think anybody could have imagined it. It was hard to keep from crying.
” You know why this is so easy for me? Because I have a life, a purpose, a destiny. I want to make sure that our children are nurtured, raised in the right and proper environment, educated with excellence and, most important, raised with an understanding of what’s right and wrong and choose right. Let’s make the world a better place.”
Green whose Youth Life Foundation operates five learning centers in three states plus the District, has long been trying to make the world better. And there’s no question that he made the Redskins a better team from his 1983 debut when he chased down speedy Cowboys superstar Tony Dorsett from behind through yesterday when he raced with that punt return after a handoff from Champ Bailey.
“During Darrell’s first practice, he was lined up against [Pro Bowl receiver] Charlie Brown and he slipped on his face but got back up and made the play and right away you knew the guy was special,” said Green’s first cornerback partner, Vernon Dean.
Green’s punt return was a thrill, especially since he has been a backup the last three years and been mostly relegated to special teams the last five weeks. For a brief moment as he began running up the Dallas sideline, it looked like Green might score. And his little jump over a would-be tackler was reminiscent of his signature 52-yard punt return that won a playoff game in Chicago 15 years ago next month.
“Awesome, awesome,” said a grinning Green. “Champ called that. I didn’t do bad. I really enjoyed that. My [13-year-old son Jared] saw daddy can still do that. I jumped over a guy, but I didn’t score this time. We probably should have done it before.”
Three-time Pro Bowl pick Bailey, who’s in line to replace Green as the senior Redskin despite having been in Washington just four years, got a kick out if it, too.
“We’ve talked about that play all year and today was our last chance,” Bailey said. “Darrell was really scooting up the sideline. I thought he was going to score until I saw so many blue jerseys going that way. We wanted to win this game for him. I can’t believe he won’t be here anymore. Darrell has passed the torch to me. It’s on me now.”
Green retired after 20 seasons and 313 games Redskins records and the longest any NFL player has lasted with one team. He didn’t extend his record streak of seasons with an interception to 20, and he’s not going to the playoffs for a ninth time, but he did go out a winner as the Redskins ended their embarrassing skid against the Cowboys.
“Could you write anything better?” said Green, who also relished last week’s victory over his hometown Houston Texans. “You can only imagine what it took for me to play 20 years, the wear on your family, your body, your emotions. [But] I can say unequivocally that I’m in the right place. This team will always be very dear to me.”
And the feeling is extremely mutual. As he was added to the Redskins’ Ring of Fame before the game, Green thought of his late father Leonard as well as those next to him: his mother, siblings, wife and children. And Green’s teammates former Redskins Dean, Tim Johnson, Monte Coleman, Johnny Thomas, Scott Turner and Darryl Pounds were on hand yesterday are also very much family.
“Darrell is a tribute to the game,” said defensive end Bruce Smith, himself an 18-year veteran. “His remarkable legacy I don’t think will ever be matched: 20 years with one team, the history, his accomplishments team-wise and personal. I’m just happy that I had an opportunity to know him as a person and as a player for the last three years. He’s the consummate professional. God bless him.”
And that’s just what Green feels has happened to the 5-foot-9, 184-pound “itty-bitty” guy from tiny Texas A&I who joined the Super Bowl champion Redskins with the final pick of the first round of the 1983 draft.
“I spoke to the team after the game and told them how much I loved them and appreciated them,” Green said. “I’m overpaid, rich not so much in money, but in love, friendships and opportunities. Today I realized how rich I am. I didn’t get the big paydays that some guys got [by testing the free agent market] but I wouldn’t trade them for a billion dollars.”