- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2008

Watching Darrell Green play football for two decades was such a pleasure. The adjective is used too often in our profession, but Darrell really was a unique player. Trust me, I’ve spent enough time poking around in the NFL’s dusty archives to know.

A 5-foot-9 cornerback who slugged it out among the Helmeted Mutants for 20 years? It still seems impossible. But Darrell did it - and did it at a high level from start to finish. No hanging on at the end for him. In fact, is there any doubt he could have squeezed out another season or two if he were so inclined? His world-class speed, after all, never totally left him.

I, for one, could never decide whether he was a football player who happened to be very fast or a track man who happened to be an outstanding footballer. Whichever he was, though, he was beautiful to behold - batting down passes, submarining running backs on sweeps, chasing down somebody from behind. His small stature and boyish good looks belied his competitiveness, his toughness. You don’t survive as long as he did at - for my money - the most physically challenging position in the game if you don’t have a heart the size of Dave Butz.

I still laugh at the memory of Darrell hoisting Jerry Rice one day, professional-wrestling style, and slamming him to the Candlestick Park turf. This was during a playoff game in the early ‘90s, if memory serves. Rice was trying to wriggle free, and Darrell just said, “Enough of this nonsense.”

An official hit him with an unnecessary roughness penalty, even though Rice suffered little more than a nasty grass stain on his gold 49ers pants. Still, the idea that Darrell, when properly piqued, could bench press the World’s Greatest Receiver …

His statistics and accomplishments need no elaboration - 54 interceptions, seven Pro Bowls, three Super Bowl rings, the oldest cornerback to do just about everything. But it was his fleetness afoot that made him a household name. Four times he competed in the NFL’s Fastest Man contest, and four times - the last at age 31 - he took the title.

He beat Olympians (sprinter Ron Brown, hurdler Willie Gault). He beat one of Herschel Walker’s multiple personalities (though not the swiftest one, Herschel would probably tell you). He showed us, unequivocally, that Mark Duper wasn’t so super. He became, over the years, the NFL’s Fastest Man personified.

And if there’s one thing players respect, it’s speed - because speed can embarrass you, - and no professional likes to be embarrassed. We can only imagine the ribbing Dallas’ Tony Dorsett must have taken after Darrell ran him down in the ‘83 Monday night opener, Darrell’s NFL debut. From that day forward, Dorsett - a blur of a back when he came into the league - was never viewed quite the same way again. Oh, he was fast, sure, but he wasn’t Darrell Green fast.

Of course, no one was Darrell Green fast - except Darrell Green. Even now, I’m not sure there’s anyone in the league who could outrun him when he was in his prime. And that’s unusual, because it has been 17 years since his last Fastest Man contest. Historically, NFL players have gotten bigger, faster and stronger … until now. We’re still waiting for somebody who could knock off Darrell Green.

The speed was the fun part. But what was most admirable about Darrell was the will. Talk about a guy who refused to lose. As his career progressed, let’s not forget, the game began to change. The smaller, jitterbug receivers who were so popular in the early ‘80s - and who posed less of a physical problem for Darrell - started being replaced by behemoths like 6-4 Keyshawn Johnson and 6-2 (and long-limbed) Michael Irvin. It’s awfully hard for a corner to give away five, seven inches to a wideout, especially around the goal line.

Somehow, though, Darrell managed to make the transition from one decade to the next - and on into the new millennium. Actually, there was no “somehow” about it. In addition to his blazing speed, you see, Darrell could also jump like Jordan. Why, one wintry day in Chicago, he hurdled a tackler on a punt return and went 52 yards for the winning touchdown, the biggest play in the Redskins‘ 1987 Super Bowl season.

That’s why my favorite recollection of him isn’t one of his length-of-the-field dashes - homing in on a runaway ball carrier or racing away for a TD - it’s an utterly insignificant play against the Vikings in 1998. To set the scene: The Redskins were 0-6 at the time, the Vikings 5-0, and the game was going about as expected. (That is, badly for Washington.) Anyway, in the second half, a Vikes rookie named Randy Moss ran a deep route into the end zone, and Randall Cunningham threw an alley-oop pass to him.

Moss is one of those oversized receivers I was talking about - a 6-4 would-be basketball player. Next to Darrell, he looks like Yao Ming. But Darrell went right up with him and, to the dismay of the Metrodome masses, got enough of a finger on the ball to prevent a score. Not this day, Randy.

That’s how I’ll always think of Darrell Green: The man never, ever stopped trying. Not even when his team was 0-6 going on 0-7. Not even when the score was 41-7 (as it wound up being that dreadful afternoon).

“I’m just a little peanut out there trying to do my job,” he said afterward.

This “little peanut” is now in the Hall of Fame. Maybe they’ll put his bust next to Art Shell’s.

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