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Veteran cornerback ready to say goodbye Sunday vs. Dallas

Posted: Thursday December 26, 2002 7:23 PM

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) -- Darrell Green is leaving. Don't try to catch him.

"I don't think anybody could run me down," the Washington Redskins' cornerback said Thursday. "There may be somebody in the world I don't know that could beat me, but I don't think anybody could run me down the way I used to run other players down."

It was a rare moment of pride from the 42-year-old Green, who reminisced about a 20-year career that comes to an end Sunday when the Redskins host the Dallas Cowboys.

The conversation included the usual references to his kids, the Bible and role models, and some fleeting glances of the emotions to come.

"I haven't had butterflies in my stomach in eight or 10 years," Green said. "I imagine Sunday I'm going to have butterflies. I anticipate it with a lot of joy."

Green is the last holdover from the Super Bowl years, the Joe Gibbs era. He played his first game on Sept. 5, 1983 -- during Ronald Reagan's first term. He holds the NFL record for most seasons with one team and is the oldest player ever to play cornerback in the league. He went to seven Pro Bowls, including one at age 37. Not bad for a 5-foot-9 player taken as the final pick in the first round of the 1983 draft.

Green has rejected the modern pro sports image.

He never tried to shop himself in free agency. He preached humility, once apologizing for a very mild touchdown celebration. He embraced the notion that players should be role models and used his celebrity to establish a series of inner-city learning centers. He is a part of the local fabric and never plans to leave it.

"I don't drink. I don't smoke. I go home at night. I'm very conscientious of that," Green said. "I don't think a lot of players are. When they chant my name 'Darrell, Darrell,' I don't take the chant home with me. It's all about perspective."

He confesses that he's departed from that mindset recently. He's taken special photographs with former rival players at every stadium this season and has let himself soak up the adulation of the home crowd.

He's had more time to enjoy the crowd because he hasn't played much lately, his one big disappointment. He will be with the starters for at least one play Sunday following a pregame ceremony, but he hasn't been a regular on defense since assistant coach Marvin Lewis gave Green's nickel-back duties to rookie Rashad Bauman at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day.

"For the first time in my career I did not touch the field on defense. It really hurt," Green said. "The thing that hurt the most was that I wasn't aware of it. He never really officially told me, even thought I asked him a couple of times, 'Hey are we making the switch? Just tell me.' He never did. I struggled with that a lot.

"Fortunately, that was four or five games ago. I'm very comfortable as we land the plane. We've got the seat belts on. We can see the ground. I leave with zero regrets, no hard feelings. It's been a joyous career -- including this year."

This is the only season that Green hasn't intercepted a pass, so he'd like one more to extend his NFL-record streak to 20 years. That would be a bookend to the highlight mentioned most often -- running down Dallas' Tony Dorsett his rookie year.

However, Green points out that a cornerback's best years have virtually no highlights.

"I was the Maytag man before anybody else was," Green said. "When you've reached the pinnacle of your position, where teams don't really challenge you. You didn't mention me. I didn't mention myself. That was the most exciting time of the my career."

Green finally lost his starting job in 2000, when the Redskins signed Deion Sanders for a year. Rookie Fred Smoot beat out Green last year, putting him at nickel until Bauman passed him.

Green initially announced that last year would be his last, but a rigorous training camp, an 0-5 start and a sagging economy following Sept. 11 made it difficult to connect his departure with publicity for his foundation.

So he came back for one more year, and this time it feels right. Yes, he doesn't play as much, and the team has a losing record, but he's more at peace saying goodbye than he would have been a year ago. He'll spend time with his family, church and foundation.

"I'm going to live life like I always have," Green said. "Life is like playing cornerback. I think there's a certain place where I have to know exactly where I'm going, then there's a point when I have to react to what's coming my way."


 
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