Redskins' Green ready to corner 1 more season

Likely Hall of Famer retiring after 19 years

September 05, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - As former Redskins head coach and defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon has probably said a million times in the 19 years since Darrell Green came to man the cornerback slot in Washington, he didn't think much of Green when he first showed up.

Petitbon, who came to Redskin Park yesterday to mark Green's retirement at the end of this season, said he thought Green, at 5 feet 9, was too small to make it in the NFL. In Petitbon's first impression, then-general manager Bobby Beathard had blundered badly by making Green a first-round pick in 1983 from unheard-of Texas A&I.

"I'm thinking Bobby Beathard has [made a mistake]. I looked at Darrell, and I said, `Here's another one,' " said Petitbon, who coached Green for nine years.

And then Green ran, displaying the sprinter's speed that won him the NFL's Fastest Man honor four times, and Petitbon knew the Redskins had a special player whose usefulness at one of football's most demanding positions continued long past the time when most players had left the scene.

"I don't think people realize how hard it is to play cornerback. It's absolutely unbelievable," said Petitbon, himself a former defensive back. "And to do it at his level for as long as he has is amazing. He's a tribute to clean living. It's mind-boggling."

Indeed, Green, 41, the oldest cornerback to play in the league, the oldest to return an interception for a touchdown at age 37, and the only NFL player ever to grab at least one interception in 18 straight seasons, is convinced that he could have lasted long enough to at least tie Jim Marshall and Jackie Slater, whose 20 seasons each is third on the all-time list for longevity, if not catch former Colt Earl Morrall's 21 seasons, the second-longest career mark behind George Blanda's 26 years.

Green, for years the fastest man in the NFL, ran away from any suggestion that his decision to leave the game was made by anyone but him, though new coach Marty Schottenheimer handed the starting right corner slot for Sunday's opener in San Diego to rookie Fred Smoot, who was 4 years old when Green came into the league.

"I can play 21 years. I can play 22," said Green. "But you know what? My time's now. And the other great thing is I get to play now."

Schottenheimer said Green, who played for the Redskins' three Super Bowl champion teams in 1983, 1987 and 1991, will be the nickel back in Washington's secondary, getting about 20-25 plays a game, and a possible start now and then.

"I think Darrell in the role of a nickel back, getting 25 plays a game, gives us the best of all worlds," said Schottenheimer, who said he told Green last week that he wouldn't start. "You've got Fred, who's a young player who can go out and play and needs to learn his way, and you have Darrell, who for 20 or 25 plays can give us everything he has, which is still a winning performance. I feel really good about the cornerback position."

Green, a devout Christian, said he felt during training camp the time had come to give more of himself to the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to changing the lives of young people, and turned yesterday's session into an old-fashioned revival meeting as much as a retirement announcement.

"If you love the little guy with the hole on top [balding head], if you love the little guy who can run, then help the little guy help the young people," said Green, flanked by his wife, three children and other family members, as well as former teammates. "I'm not a nice guy trying to help out the poor little kids. I'm called, I'm purposeful, I'm destined, I'm living out God's purpose for my life."

NOTES: Schottenheimer said rookie free agent David Brandt would get the start at right guard Sunday ahead of Ben Coleman, whose knees have hampered his play throughout the preseason, with Dave Szott, who played for the coach in Kansas City, supplanting Matt Campbell at left guard. ... Left tackle Chris Samuels, who missed the final two exhibition games with a rib muscle injury, and defensive end Bruce Smith, who missed the preseason with a strained shoulder, are expected to play Sunday. ... Schottenheimer said he doesn't expect to add any players cut from other teams, barring any injuries.

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