Green goes to great pains not to be hero

Ken Rosenthal

January 13, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

WASHINGTON -- You ask about a unique show of courage, and you leave thinking it was nothing special. The Washington Redskins brainwash you that way. They convince you what Darrell Green did yesterday was routine.

It wasn't, but these are the Redskins, and they're going to the Super Bowl, and just leave it at that. "You're trying to make me a hero," Green told one reporter yesterday. Only in the Redskins' locker room does that qualify as a sin.

The Redskins don't do heroes. If they did, they'd be just another gifted team, not the brutally efficient unit that pounded Detroit 41-10 in the NFC championship game yesterday at RFK Stadium.

Green, a hero? Perish the thought. Never mind that the five-time Pro Bowl cornerback missed most of the first half after suffering bruised ribs, only to recover and score the Redskins' final touchdown on a 32-yard interception return.

Neat stuff, especially considering that the Lions rallied after Green got hurt. But you just knew the Redskins' coaching staff would downplay his absence afterward. And you just knew the players would say they expected him back all along.

This is the Redskins' personality under coach Joe Gibbs. It represses the individual. It is predictable and self-serving and dull. But there's something to it, seeing as how this team is heading to its fourth Super Bowl in 11 years.

Green, 31, didn't panic after misfortune struck as he tried to tackle Barry Sanders early in the first quarter. He sat in the locker room and prayed. Two team chaplains joined him, along with linebacker Matt Millen, who was inactive for the game.

"It was a hopeless situation," Green said. "A rib injury is one dealing with muscle, dealing with cartilage, dealing with lungs -- a lot of things. I couldn't get shot up with medication. There was nothing you could do but pray."

Pray and hope for the pain to subside, which it never quite did. "My ribs, even now, they're killing me," Green said afterward, but his X-rays had been negative, and the NFC title was at stake, and well, you know the rest.

"I knew he was coming back," Redskins defensive tackle Eric Williams said. "Darrell's tough. I knew he wouldn't be out long. There were too many marbles on the table for him to miss it."

The fact is, the Redskins struggled without him, not that they cared to admit it. They led 10-0 at the time of Green's injury, but only 17-10 when he returned at the start of the third quarter.

Lions quarterback Erik Kramer was 14-for-19 passing with Green sidelined, 7-for-14 otherwise. His 18-yard touchdown pass to Willie Green resulted from the receiver beating Martin Mayhew, Darrell's replacement at the right corner.

Kramer nearly threw a second touchdown pass in the final minute before intermission, but the Redskins' left corner, A.J. Johnson, extended himself in the end zone, knocking down the ball with his right hand.

The Lions settled for a field goal, and Green insisted the game's shifting flow did not affect his decision to return. But it was clear the Redskins missed his coverage skills and leadership against the Lions' run-and-shoot.

"He's kind of the spiritual leader of the secondary," Mayhew said. HTC "He does a lot for us. He talks to us. He gets us settled. Psychologically, there may have been a difference."

But that was as far as Mayhew or anyone else would go. Free safety Brad Edwards said the secondary "didn't miss a lot of beats" without Green and strong safety Danny Copeland, who did not return after injuring his neck in the second quarter.

Defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon was even more adamant, saying, "All we had to do was improve on what we were doing," Petitbon said. "His [Green's] not being in the game didn't affect their scoring. They were not throwing at Darrell Green. The passes were going to the soft part of the zone."

It's difficult to argue with Petitbon, whose defense allowed only 47 points in five games against run-and-shoot teams this season. Yesterday it registered five sacks, recovered three Kramer fumbles and made two interceptions, all while holding Sanders to 11 carries and 44 yards.

The success of the Redskins obviously is not tied to any one player, but if Green was such an expendable part, he never would have returned. Instead, he asked Gibbs to let him try, not that the coach needed much convincing.

"I felt really down," Green said. "I couldn't imagine not playing. I went back out there and said, 'Coach, I'm going to be standing over here. I'm not going to make the determination on the sideline. I'm going to make it on the field.' "

It was the same way in a 1987 playoff game against Chicago, the one in which his 52-yard punt return for a touchdown put the Redskins in the NFC championship game. Green injured his ribs on that play, then tried to return and could not.

This time he did. He kept playing as the Redskins built their lead, then ran back his interception with 5:11 left. At that point, of course, he probably should have been out of the game.

"The team can say they didn't need it," Green said with a smile. "But I appreciated it." Spoken like a true Redskin anti-hero. Humble and grateful, to the end.

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