Green still up for the chase Redskins: After 15 years, opponents have learned to not look back, because Washington's stellar, 37-year-old cornerback might be gaining on them.

October 26, 1997|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. -- Fifteen years after he burst into national consciousness with speed that chills, Darrell Green still chases down running backs and wide receivers with uncommon verve for the Washington Redskins.

The first chase, in which Green caught Tony Dorsett from behind on "Monday Night Football," may have been the most tantalizing, however.

Green, a 23-year-old rookie cornerback at the time, was making his Redskins debut. Dorsett was in the prime of his Hall of Fame career with the Dallas Cowboys. The football world spun on its axis when the rookie caught the future Hall of Famer on a breakaway run.

"It was a quick pitch away from me," Green said, recalling the play as if it were yesterday. "I was on the defensive left. He ran a sweep to the defensive right. I had to come across the flat, then go up [the sideline].

"The play was only great for one reason -- because Tony Dorsett was great. I rode off his back. If Joe Blow runs the ball, it's no big deal."

There would be other memorable chases -- Green caught Eric Dickerson from behind in the 1986 playoffs and New England's Curtis Martin a year ago -- in a career that will send Green to the Hall of Fame with Dorsett one day.

But this one was the harbinger of things to come, the one that said the Redskins' first-round draft choice of 1983 was something special. Little did anyone realize how special.

As he enters today's game against the Ravens in Landover, Green has a list of accomplishments that includes two victories in three Super Bowl appearances, six Pro Bowl invitations and a standard of excellence at cornerback that is hard to match.

Still, his most enduring legacy may turn out to be the work he does in Washington's inner-city neighborhoods, where he has established a program to address any number of societal ills.

One of the best pure cover men in NFL history has set up a safety net for children and needy families with the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation. The centerpiece of the foundation is the Learning Center, located at the Franklin Commons Housing Complex on Franklin Street in Northeast Washington.

Green, a devout Christian, undertook the project in the late 1980s after attending a Christmas party for underprivileged families.

"The kids weren't dressed properly and the parents smelled of alcohol, and driving home from the party, I realized I still wasn't doing anything [to help]," Green said. "I had the heart and the willingness to go beyond being a celebrity drawing card."

That week, he called a lawyer to inquire about creating a foundation. Then he began collecting ideas. He wanted to provide food and clothing for the needy, educational opportunities for those who wanted them, and a Christian setting in which they could function.

He launched the foundation 10 years ago, and started the Learning Center four years ago. Participants in the center must attend for 10 hours a week, open a savings account, get a library card and, if they are 18 or older, get a voter registration card.

"We take up the slack in the lives of people," Green said. "This is a simple vision I had. But it's not something I'm winning, 100-17. I'm fighting the good fight to help people do the best they can. My purpose is to carry out God's purpose in my time and my generation.

"My goal, when I'm out of football, is to build these learning centers nationwide."

It was in recognition of that contribution that Green was named the NFL Man of the Year last season. He also received the Bart Starr and Ken Houston humanitarian awards.

Green's religion has had a direct impact on his football career, as well. He recalled the time he nearly signed with another team as a free agent, but said he felt the hand of God lead him back to the Redskins.

"I was reading the Bible at church one day, thinking about the reality of playing for another team, when the fear of God hit me," Green said. "Sitting on the floor in the back of the church, I started crying. That's when it hit me what I was leaving -- the community, the church. At that time, the money I was offered was more than double what I was making [with the Redskins]."

Green asked then-coach Joe Gibbs to do everything in his power to help him remain a Redskin, and says he has never considered leaving Washington again.

Now in the twilight of his remarkable career, Green signed a five-year contract worth $12.5 million last spring. Should he play it out, he'd be 41 in 2001, the final year. At 37, he already is the oldest cornerback in the NFL.

Still, he remains one of its best. For the sixth time, he was named to the Pro Bowl last season. His speed may have slipped just a little -- from 4.15 seconds in the 40-yard dash to 4.3 -- but it's still fast enough. Four times he has won the NFL's fastest man competition.

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