Tony Green solidified his position as the premier kick returner in the National Football League this season with his 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the St. Louis cardinals yesterday, but a knee injury sustained on the punt he handled, put his future playing status in question.
Green's kickoff return came five minutes into the game following a St. Louis field goal. Five minutes later, he fielded a Steve Little punt at the Redskin 21-yard line, broke through a wall of would-be tacklers, and just as he was ready to break into he clear, was hit fron the left side by Lee Nelson.
"I saw him all right," Green said of Nelson. "I was trying to lift my leg up a d get away from him so I wouldn't get hit, but I didn't get it up quick enough. It got hooked underneath me. It was a light shot, though, nothing I'll die from."
Green was down on the field for a couple of minutes and then had to be helped to the Redskin bench. He was taken for precautionary X-rays that team physician Dr. Stan Lavine said were negative.
Green did not return, however, and was limping badly on his left leg in the Redskin dressing room after the game.
"It's very sore," he said.
"He has sprained ligaments," Lavine said. "We'll re-evaluate him tomorrow or the next day."
Green twisted the same knee during training camp in Carlisle, Pa., "and I was back at practise the next day," he said. "I didn't have any choice then. That was training camp. It was either practise or be gone."
Yesterday's scoring jaunt was Green's first kickoff return for a touchdown, and if it hadn't been for the injury, he said, "I could have really chalked up the stats. Some days the feeling you are going to do great is just in the air. This was one of them. Wow, what a day to get hurt."
"He might have set all kinds of records, today," said John Hilton, special teams coach. "They really followed their assignments on that play and Tony is capable of breaking it with one block."
Green got at least three good blocks on the touchdown run.The first two from Karl Lorch and Clarence Harmon got him through tha hole and then another from J.T. Smith sealed off the outside and broke Green into the clear.
After Green was injured, it was Smith, another rookie, who took over as the primary kick returner. He returned four punts fot 33 yards and he was ready to break into the clear, Lemar Parrish returned one for four yards. The Redskins did not have another kickoff return.
"We almost broke a couple with J.T., too," Hilton said. "Sometimes it doesn't really matter who is back there returning them. J.T. is our best handler of kicks anyway and he's a hard runner."
On his second punt return, early in the third quarter, Smith fell hard to the Astroturf and strained his left shoulder. He fielded two more punts, but was in considerable discomfort after the game. In addition to being Green's backup as a returner and a valuable special teams performer, Smith also is a reserve wide receiver and the team's fifth running back. With both Smith and Green injured, the only completely healthy Redskin runners are starters Mike Thomas and John Riggins and backup Harmon.
Both St. Louis scores were the re-Tilley, then behind the Redskin secsult of trick plays, the Cardinals going nowhere in trying to go straight at the Redskins.
The field goal preceeding Green's 99 yard kickoff return, was set up by a pass off a lateral from quarterback Jim Hart to wide receiver Dave Stief, who threw to the other wide receiver, Pat Tilley.
After the snap, Stief, who was split wide to the left, took a few steps back and Hart threw the ball back to him as if it was to be a screen pass. As the Redskins manuevered to make the play on Stief, he lofted a long pass to Tilley, then behind the Redskin secondary. The play gained 43 yards to the Redskin 16 before Jake Scott made the tackle.
"I was the one who was wrong," said cornerback Parrish. "I was the deep man in the zone and I should have stayed deep. The play surprised me, but I still should have carried out the defense."
"It was my fault, too." Scott said.
"They tried that play again and didn't work," Parrish added. "You aren't going to catch us on anything like that twice."
The Cardinals' only touchdown came on a 27-yard run by Mel Gray on the reverse.
The Redskins sacked Hart twice and harrassed him into completing only 16 of the 40 passes.
"He wants to throw the ball quick so you come to him hard." Coy Bacon said of Hart."You yell at him, holler at and try to scare him. You make him throw the ball away. That's what we did and that's as good as a sack to me."
Ailing Redskins in addition to Green and Smith, were Ted Fritsch, who nearly passed out from dehydration, Dan Nugent, who strained a knee and Ron Saul, with a hip pointer. Thomas and Gerard Williams had to leave the game on several occasions because of leg cramps caused from dehydration.