Saturday, August 02, 2008

A lifetime of fast running: Green goes into Hall

DULLES, Va. (AP)—In 1969, after his parents were divorced, 9-year-old Darrell Green moved with his mother from a nice, picturesque Houston community to the projects. He then starting riding a public bus every morning to go back to his old neighborhood and finish out the year at his old school.

“I get off this bus,” Green said, “and this guy had a little shop, maybe a lawnmower shop or something. He would chase me every day. I never told my parents. I just tied down all my stuff and when I hit the ground out of that bus: Pow! I did that maybe for a month until school was out.

“He had bad intentions. He was chasing a 9-year-old boy.”

So Green was off and running, and he never really stopped. Not when he started attending another elementary school and outran every sixth grader in the 50-yard dash. Not when he got to middle school and outran every boy on the track team, driving crazy the coach who begged and begged but couldn’t persuade Green to join the squad.

Not when he got to high school and finally ran track in the 10th grade. And then played football for the first time in the 11th grade, then both sports as a senior, and again at Texas A&I.

Green didn’t stop running when the Washington Redskins selected him with the final pick in the first round of the 1983 draft. Or when he touched the ball for the first time in an NFL game: a 61-yard punt return for a touchdown against Atlanta in the preseason. Or when he gained instant celebrity status by chasing down Tony Dorsett on “Monday Night Football” in his first regular-season game.

Or when he tore cartilage in his ribs during a 52-yard punt return touchdown against Chicago in a 1987 playoff game. (Check the replay: The man is carrying the ball in one hand and trying to hold his rib cage in place with the other.) Or when he won the “NFL’s Fastest Man” competition four times. Or when he was clocked at 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash at age 37. Or when made any of his club-record 54 career interceptions.

Even when he retired in 2002, he stayed on the field for 55 minutes after his final game, greeting fans in a Cal Ripken-like victory lap. At age 42, he was ending his career as the NFL’s oldest cornerback ever.

And he still didn’t stop. There have been business ventures, his Youth Life Foundation for children, his church, and honors received, such as “Darrell Green Boulevard” that runs near a new golf course in which he is a partner.

And, of course, the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The 5-foot-8 guy will be there Saturday, inducted in his first year of eligibility.

“The Hall of Fame is not a goal, it’s a byproduct of an effort,” Green said in an interview with The Associated Press. “There’s no magic to it. I’m not that complicated. As fascinating as the Hall of Fame is to the fans, the kids, it’s fascinating to me. I’m like a spectator in the stands: ‘You’re kidding me? This is awesome.’

“My Hall of Fame honor is better than everybody else’s Hall of Fame honor. It’s way beyond the field.”

On the field, Green played on two Super Bowl championship teams and earned seven trips to the Pro Bowl, the last at age 37. He was a starter until age 40 and a regular on defense until the final weeks of his career. He never tried to shop himself in free agency and became, along with Jackie Slater, one of two players in NFL history to play with one team for 20 seasons. He embraced the notion that athletes should be role models and once apologized for a very mild touchdown celebration.

Oh, he was fast, too. But, then again, that’s just his personality.

“I met my wife, and within six months we got engaged,” Green said. “I’ve just always been a guy who has a quick discernment on something. Even in business. I’ve always been fast. I’m fast in the things that I try to focus on, but I also have a stick-to-it-ness.”

Of course, speed isn’t everything, although it threatened to define Green’s game for a while. Everyone remembers that he chased down Dorsett, but Green remembers the Redskins lost that game to the Dallas Cowboys.

“A guy just ran the ball 40 or 50 yards on us, and then we end up losing the game,” Green said. “Where, in my seat where I’m sitting, do I call that great? In retrospect, it was a great play—wow—because it was Tony Dorsett, but the two-edged sword is ‘Wow, this guy can run fast.’ And I spent the majority of my first five years just being known as a guy who can run fast. The reality is I can cover.”

Green these days is typing as fast as he can, trying to finish his autobiography. As he reflected on the childhood story of the man who chased him at the bus stop, two thoughts came to his mind.

“He didn’t know he was chasing the future fastest man in the NFL,” Green said with a sly smile.

And the second?

“Why didn’t I tell my parents?”

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