HERNDON, Va. -- On the front cover of Sports Illustrated was Joe Montana. On the back cover was Darrell Green, in a sportswear ad, running as if he were a Washington Redskin rookie again, chasing Tony Dorsett.
"I'd have caught him quicker now than I did that day," the little cornerback said.
That day was Sept. 5, 1983, Green's first in the National Football League. Running the 90-yard hypotenuse as Dorsett sped 77 yards down the sideline, Green nailed the Cowboys' running back from behind.
"I think I'm a little faster now," Green said. "That's documented, in fact."
Some people should not ever be 30. Willie Mays. Janice Ian. Darrell Green, but he is, 30 years and 10 months.
And he sees no reason why he couldn't play in the NFL for six more years. "I understand the game now," Green says.
He is having a vintage year. The Redskins have "defensed" 51 passes in their first 12 games and Green, at 5 feet 8, has batted down a dozen. He has 46 solo tackles and 18 assists, tops on the team except for the two safeties, three linebackers and Martin Mayhew, the second-year man who plays the other corner.
It is an unenviable position for Mayhew. Just as outfielders with strong throwing arms never lead the league in assists, the most efficient cornerback seldom leads in interceptions. They throw at the other one. This season Green has four, Mayhew six.
Asked if he felt the 49ers were "picking on" him in their 26-13 victory in September, Mayhew said: "Didn't you think so?"
For similar reasons, Green's rookie season, with veteran Vernon Dean at the opposite corner, was his busiest: 109 tackles, 79 of them solo.
"It is just basic wisdom that they would go after the less experienced player," Green said. "I would hope there would be a difference, because it would reflect that all my study at my position all these years has been worthwhile. There should be a development."
Green would like to extend his career for the benefit of his family, he said, but there is another reason. He enjoys recognition as "a top cover man," which he feels has come to him late.
"Only the last couple of years," he said. "Before that I was just the fastest man. But I was covering the top receivers in the league from Day One."
A 10.08 100-meter man at Texas A&I, Green beat out swifties like Willie Gault and Herschel Walker to be the "NFL's Fastest Man" for television in 1987 and 1989.
"I am having the kind of year an eight-year veteran ought to have," Green summarized. That is partly because he doesn't practice what he preaches about playing defense.
In the vulnerable, visible cornerback position, Green always says, "They're going to catch balls on you, no matter who you are or what you do. You're going to get beat. That's just the nature of the position."
He smiled, sheepishly. "Yeah, I know," he said. "But I don't want anybody ever to catch a ball on me. It's a contradiction, but I guess I'm just a perfectionist."
That first day in his professional career as a perfectionist, Green remembers tackling Dorsett behind on the 7-yard line, and that Dallas had to settle for a field goal. He also recalls that the Cowboys prevailed, 31-30. "But it was a pretty nice way to break in," he said.
Dorsett, the Heisman Trophy winner, a six-year veteran with two Super Bowls behind him, didn't know what hit him.
* Veteran players, led by 33-year-old quarterback Jeff Rutledge, keep addressing Brian Mitchell as "rookie," suggesting they don't really think of him as one anymore.
Mitchell, the 22-year-old converted quarterback, copped a plea to "a stupid mistake" in Sunday's 42-20 victory over Miami, but wasn't much abashed about it.
"I was going to get out of the way," he said of the punt that bounced off him after he aborted a fair catch in the first quarter. "I waited too long."
Mitchell also fumbled the Dolphins' last kickoff, but recovered and made an 11-yard runback. He didn't look like a rookie running back in his seven carries for 36 yards.
Earnest Byner noticed. When it was mentioned after the game that Mitchell had been "supposed to get the ball" against Miami, Byner said: "He got it a little." Byner added that there was a future for Mitchell as a runner, but right now he wanted the ball.