Green, Darrell 1960–
Darrell Green 1960–
Professional football player
Darrell Green played corner-back for the Washington Redskins from 1983 to 2003, but even though he had a sure Hall-of-Fame career, Green is not only about the sport of football. At five-feet, nine inches tall, Green was not even supposed to play effectively among the behemoths of the National Football League (NFL). But there he was, not only playing in the NFL, but dominating at one of the most physically demanding positions in the league. Green played in seven Pro Bowls, the last one coming when he was 37 years old. At the age of 39 Green started every game as a Redskin and was still the fastest man on the team at the age of 40. Besides his longevity Green played his whole career for one team allowing him to raise a family and to establish a foundation to help underprivileged children in the Washington, D.C., area. For Green none of the Pro Bowls, or the records, or the fact that he stayed in one place to start a family and a charitable foundation is all that noteworthy. For him it is all part of a higher plan. He expressed this sentiment in a speech before his last game as a Redskin as reported by the Associated Press: “This has been the most incredible day in my life because I just started off just wanting to be a good football player, like most kids would want to be, and realized that God has more in plan for me.”
Green, who was born on February 15, 1960, in Houston, Texas, was always an athletic child, but he shined especially in the sports where he was able to showcase his speed. At Jones High School in Houston, Green made all state in track and all city in football. Despite the fact that he was an outstanding cornerback in high school, he only attracted the attention of Division II Texas A & I, as a football player. Once in college Green began to shine, and by the time he was a senior, he was dominating opponents. In his senior year at Texas A & I, he made 56 tackles, four interceptions, and scored two touchdowns on punt returns. As a football player Green was named Division II All-American and in track the only man who ran a faster collegiate 100-meter time was Olympic legend Carl Lewis. But Green was not a track star who decided to play football; he had always been a football player first. Another important facet of his life came into clearer focus in his senior year in college.
At a Glance…
Born Darrell Green on February 15, 1960, in Houston, TX; married to Jewell Green; children: Jerrell, Jared, and Joi. Education: Texas A & I, BA, 1983.
Career: Washington Redskins, football player, corner-back, 1983-2003.
Memberships: Darrell Green Youth Foundation, founder and president, 1988-.
Awards: Division II All American, 1982; AP All-Rookie team, 1983; Pro Bowl selection, 1984,1986-87,1990-91, 1996-97; NFL Man of the Year, Bart Starr Award, NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 1996; USA Today Most Caring Athlete Award, 1997; Redskins Player of the Year, 1998; The Sporting News Good Guy Award, 1999; The Sporting News Top 100 Athletes of the Century Award, 2000; Texas Sports Hall of Fame, 2001; also granted honorary degrees from Marymount University, George Washington University, and American University.
Address: Office —Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation, 333 Hawaii Avenue NE, Second Floor, Washington, D.C., 20011.
Green, who had always been active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, made a conscious decision to devote his life to Jesus Christ and to live accordingly.
The Washington Redskins recognized Green’s unique ability despite the fact that at five feet, nine inches and 184 pounds he was considered almost too small by NFL standards. The team drafted him in the first round, twenty-eighth overall, in the 1983 draft. The Redskins were certain that he would be effective as a punt returner and thought he could help in certain coverage schemes, but the team found out that they had drafted a special athlete the first time Green touched the ball. In his debut preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons, Green returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown. Green became a regular season starter when starting cornerback Jeris White could not come to terms on a new contract with the Redskins in time for the regular season opener.
Green made a splash during his first real NFL game as well. The Redskins and their hated rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, opened the 1983 season on Monday Night Football. With the whole country watching, Green introduced himself to the nation’s football fans by coming from the opposite side of the field to catch Cowboys’ speedster Tony Dorsett from behind at the end of a long run and save a sure touchdown. Green told Redskins.com that he still remembers that play: “The (play) that had the most national, eye-opening significance is chasing down Tony Dorsett on Monday Night Football. My classmates and I talked about that in college just months before, thinking who could catch him.” Green continued to excel from that night on and it would be another 19 seasons before he would leave the game that he was too small to play. He finished his rookie season first on his team in solo tackles with 74 and fourth overall with 109. He was runner-up as AP Defensive Rookie of the Year and was named to the Football Digest and AP All-Rookie teams.
In the earlier part of his career, Green made a name for himself with his overall excellence. Over the course of the next five seasons, Green made the Pro Bowl in 1984, 1986, and 1987. Green made five interceptions in 1984 and five in 1986 and was remarkably durable despite his small size and the fact that he was always among the leading tacklers on the team. In 1988 he was forced to end his season early because of a broken hand in a game during week 15 against the Cowboys. By this time Green had established himself as the league’s fastest player. Opposing quarterbacks avoided him by consistently throwing to the other side of the field. But for Green just becoming the best player at his position was not enough, he needed to do more.
Green had always been known in the media as one of the good guys of professional sports and wore his Christianity on his sleeve, but he did much more than just lend his name to charitable events or visit sick children when the cameras were rolling. Green had been active with the District of Columbia Parks and Recreation Department and was heading home one night after a Christmas event with underprivileged children when he realized he needed to do more. He told the Merrill Lynch website, “Driving home that night, I reflected on the situation and was moved to tears. It dawned on me that I needed to do something more than go through the motions of charitable appearances. The next day I called a lawyer because I had no clue what I needed to do to establish a foundation. But from that day on, it became clear to me what I would do with my life.”
What Green did was establish the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation (DGYLF). The foundation was at first set up to help disadvantaged kids with events like Fun Days in the Park. Green knew that afternoons of support and caring were important, but he had greater ambitions for his foundation. In 1993 DGYLF opened the Youth Life Learning Center in a Washington, D.C., housing project which offered programs to nurture kids physically, intellectually, and spiritually. To enroll at the learning center, the children must sign a contract to commit to the program and refrain from destructive behavior. Green’s mission in life was being realized. While other NFL players struck it rich in the free agent market Green, though perhaps the best player at his position throughout the 1990s, was content to put down roots in the Washington, D.C., community and watch his efforts bear fruit.
On the field Green continued to excel. As other wide receivers and cornerbacks burst into the league and then faded, the one constant during two decades of football was Green. He started the Pro Bowl and was second team All-Pro in 1990 and was a unanimous All-Pro selection in 1991. His Pro Bowl streak was ended by injury in 1992 when he broke his right forearm and missed seven weeks of the season. After putting in three solid seasons, Green earned his sixth trip to the Pro Bowl in 1996 at the age of 36. Instead of slowing down, though, Green went to the Pro Bowl again the next year for the seventh time. He also passed Monte Coleman for most games played for the Redskins (217).
In 1998 Green was named a second alternate to the NFC Pro Bowl team after racking up three interceptions, 87 tackles, and 22 passes defensed—all while playing cornerback, one of the most physically demanding positions in the league. While older corner-backs throughout the league typically make the move to safety where they can use their experience to be in the right place at the right time, Green still remained one of the premier cover cornerbacks in the league at the age of 38, going one on one with the likes of Jerry Rice and Randy Moss. Longtime foe and NFL wide receiving great Michael Irvin of the Dallas Cowboys talked about what kind of opponent Green was on the Washington Redskins’ website, saying “He was the man by which we all measured ourselves. If you could have a great game against Darrell Green, it meant you were there He gets the job done. He almost makes you mad because he keeps getting the job done and getting the job done and does not say anything. You have to pump yourself up even extra when you play him because he will make a great play and help you up or might knock the ball down and then compliment you on running a great route. He used to make you pretty mad, but it is nothing short of incredible what he accomplished in this league.”
In his seventeenth season for the Redskins, Green established himself as the leader in games-played for the historic franchise. At the age of 39, he started all 16 regular season games and set an NFL record for interceptions in consecutive seasons. At the age of 40, Green finally lost his stranglehold on the starters spot to one of the only men in NFL history who has been to more Pro Bowls than Green has—Deion Sanders. Though his streak of 119 straight starts was broken, Green was still a productive member of the team with three interceptions in 13 games played. Green contributed even more at the age of 41 in 2001 playing in all 16 games, starting four, and extending his NFL record to 19 consecutive seasons with at least one interception.
After 18 seasons Green announced that the 2002 season would be his last. Though still able to perform at cornerback, this group around him was not like the teams with which he played in three super bowls. Though he was the age of some of his teammate’s fathers, his final season was not a desperate attempt to hang on to a faded image of his former self. Only two years before at the age of 40 he was still the fastest player on the team. Though he was still physically fit, Green had quite a few irons in the fire. By now the DGYLF had expanded to five learning centers offering after school help and summer programs in different cities across the country. And there were three more planned by 2009. Green also opened the Youth Life Foundation Training Institute, which trains volunteers and other like-minded people to establish community-learning centers of their own.
Another reason to hang up his cleats was that Green found himself wanting to spend more time with his wife Jewell and the couple’s three children: Jerrell, Jared, and Joi. Ironically the sure first-ballot Hall of Famer is more concerned about his legacy after football than with whether people will remember that he was once the best cornerback in football and one of the NFL’s all-time greats. In the press conference after his final game as a Redskin, Green was asked what message he would like to leave behind. Pete Medhurst of the Broadcast Monsters website noted Green’s reply: “Do your job. Do it with excellence, but more than anything, be a man. If we do as God says, there will not be a time where we won’t be without leadership. That’s my message to not only the players, but to anyone who will listen.”
“Career Highlights,” Darrell Green Enterprises, www.darrellgreen.com/career_highlights (April 11, 2003).
“Darrell Green: A Man of All Good Things,” Broadcast Monsters, http://broadcastmonsters.elite-sports.com/news.asp?NewsID=1352 (April 11, 2003).
“Darrell Green Quotes,” Washington Redskins Official Website, www.redskins.com/story.asp?ContentID=11496 (April 11, 2003).
“Green says goodbye after 20 Redskin seasons,” ESPN, http://espn.go.com/nfl/news/2002/1229/1483815.html (April 11, 2003).
“Interview with Darrell Green,” Merrill Lynch, http://askmerrill.eom/res_article/l,2271,17957,00.html (April 11, 2003).
—Michael J. Watkins
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