- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2003

Call it the Redskins' "Wally Pipp moment." On June 1, 1925, New York Yankee first baseman Wally Pipp was beaned during batting practice. Rookie Lou Gehrig replaced Pipp that day in an inauspicious debut that would lead to a Hall of Fame career and a streak exceeding more than 2,100 consecutive games. On Sept. 5, 1983, Redskin rookie cornerback Darrell Green unexpectedly found himself in a starter's role in place of Jeris White, who was involved in a contract dispute. Thus began the career of the self-described "itty bitty" (5'9" and 184 pounds) Green, who would prove himself to be one of the most durable athletes in pro football history.

How durable? Noting that Green's final game against the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday would be his record-setting 313th game as a Redskin, David Elfin of The Washington Times observed, "No one in the league's 83 years has played more games or more seasons for one team. No other cornerback has played 20 years or started for 17. Only Deion Sanders … and Hall of Famer Mike Haynes have been to more Pro Bowls at cornerback." Green, whose nearly 1,400 career tackles utterly dwarf Sanders' 525, has been to seven Pro Bowls.

If Gehrig's starting debut was inauspicious, Green's was anything but. In the 1983 Monday Night Football season opener, the Redskins' unknown rookie cornerback from Texas A&I electrified more than 55,000 hometown fans and millions in the national TV audience. Coming from nowhere and racing nearly 70 yards, Green ran down Tony Dorsett, tackling the supposedly uncatchable Cowboy running back on the six-yard line after a 73-yard romp. Dorsett was just the first. In later years, Green, who is a four-time winner of the NFL's Fastest Man Contest, nailed from behind the likes of Willie Gault, Herschel Walker and Jerry Rice, the leading receiver in NFL history, who called Green the greatest cornerback he ever faced.

Indicative of Green's longevity is the fact that he became the Redskins' all-time interception leader with his 37th pick in October 1994, eight seasons ago. Since then, he increased that total by 60 percent on his way to becoming the only NFL player with at least one interception in 19 consecutive seasons. Amazingly, if measured by merely mortal (i.e., non-Darrell) standards, in May 2000 Green reclaimed the title of fastest Redskin at age 40. (This season, the 42-year-old Green huddled with 22-year-old Bernard Jackson, who was 3 the night Green caught Dorsett.)

Hard to comprehend though it may be, Green may well be a better person off the field than a player on it. In 1996, he was named NFL Man of the Year and awarded the Bart Starr and Ken Houston Humanitarian Awards. Eight years earlier, he founded the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation, an organization to benefit underprivileged, at-risk children. Today, his foundation operates five learning centers in the District and three states.

Less than two months shy of his 43rd birthday, Green has just completed his 20th and final season. When the Redskins retire his No. 28 jersey at the beginning of next season, he will rightfully join the legendary Sammy Baugh in a club of two. An integral member of two Super Bowl championship teams, the oldest cornerback ever to play in the NFL is a certain Hall of Famer.

So, what are his plans for retirement? "My goal is not only to end a career," Green told the home crowd in a pregame ceremony before his final game against the Cowboys, "but to be launched into a future that produces a light and carries out the purpose of God." Anybody who knows Darrell Green will confirm that his words were as genuine as his speed. His playing days may be over, but the best years of his life are, in all likelihood, just beginning. Contemplating that thought, all of us in the Washington region ought to be extremely grateful.


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