Quick, what's Roy Green's nickname?
Consolation question: Who's Roy Green?
Once, he was instantly recognizable from, say, East St. Louis, Ill., to Columbia, Mo. But that was only for a few minutes his rookie year, 1979, with the St. Louis Cardinals. A 106-yard kickoff return against Dallas, tying a National Football League record, quickly widened the circumference of his fame.
When more people began to notice Roy Green they saw that he lined up on both sides of the ball. Not at the same time, although he is fast. He played offense and defense. Actually, he was more a six-way man than a two-way man: Besides wide receiver and cornerback, he played on kickoff-coverage and kickoff-return teams, and punt-coverage and punt-return teams.
Then, two years ago, his days of one helmet, many hats ended. St. Louis Coach Jim Hanifan "had this idea I should play strictly wide receiver," Green said yesterday. "Things have worked out fairly well." He kept a straight voice despite the understatement. Talk about numbers -- last season Green caught 78 passes for 1,227 yards, both team records, and scored 14 touchdowns. So far this year: 34 catches, a big 21.4-yard average and six touchdowns.
Sorry, no points for the consolation question. Everybody must have heard of Roy Green.
The Redskins, who will try to find Green's brakes Sunday in St. Louis, know all about him. It was 1981, and he was more a defensive back wide receivers couldn't shake than a wide receiver defensive backs couldn't cover. But he had this dream. Literally.
"I woke up one morning in training camp and I saw Jim Hart, who was with us then," he recalls. "I said, 'Hey, Jim. I had this dream you threw me a touchdown pass.' We both laughed it off. But a few weeks later we're playing the Redskins -- it's the first game I started as a wide receiver. And Jim throws me this 58-yard bomb for a touchdown. He runs down the field toward me and I'm ready to give him a high five or something and he says, 'Hey, remember that dream.' I broke out in a cold sweat."
As if for good measure, Green returned a kickoff 27 yards, made an unassisted tackle on special teams and intercepted Joe Theismann. The interception amounted to history: It was the first time in 24 years that an NFL player had caught a touchdown pass and had an interception in the same game. The last to have done it was the Redskins' Eddie Sutton, in 1957, when Green was a few months old.
Green's had no dreams this week -- yet -- but that doesn't mean the Redskins can relax. St. Louis, the city, is in an "uproar" about the Cardinals, Green says, and the Cardinals are eager to play the Redskins. "This is the biggest game for us not only this season but since I've been here . . . We have the people who can play with Dallas and Washington.
"To go down to Dallas and come home with a victory is a feat in itself," he adds. When the Cardinals broke open that game two Sundays ago to end seven years of frustration in Texas Stadium, it was Green catching 70- and 45-yard touchdown passes, both in the third period, from Neil Lomax. Final: 31-20, Cardinals. Green had eight catches for 189 yards.
"Neil and I have grown together," Green said. "We've gone through the period of little mistakes, him expecting me to do this, me expecting him to do that."
"You hope you never have to single-cover him," says injured Redskins safety Mark Murphy. "You've got to give the cornerback help some way. A lot of touchdowns he's got have come on one-on-one situations.
"He's so fast. He's a great athlete. He catches well; he blocks well. He's smart. Having played defensive back, he's able to pick out weaknesses and exploit them."
Hart, now the Redskins' reserve quarterback, said, "He's able to break tackles," which accounts in part for Green's 21.4 yards per catch. He can turn trouble into more trouble for opposing teams.
"Dallas used a couple of blitzes and the Cardinals were able to hit Roy," Hart said. "He broke an Everson Walls tackle on the 70-yard touchdown."
But if single coverage won't work, neither can double coverage always be recommended -- "With double coverage," Green said, "O.J. Anderson or Stump Mitchell can run to the weak side." Still, Green is the Cardinals' main man on offense; he has more yardage (729) than the team's next two receivers, Pat Tilley and tight end Doug Marsh, combined.
"He's a lot like our own Calvin Muhammad," Hart said. "He doesn't look like he's moving as fast as he is. He looks like he's just gliding. But he has that ability to put a burst on."
At 27, the 6-foot, 195-pound Green is where he's always wanted to be -- on the receiving end of a football. At Magnolia (Ark.) High, he took up the game late -- as a junior -- but caught up in a hurry by playing six positions. Though Magnolia might sound like obscurity, college scouts found their way there. Green might have gone to Texas A&M or LSU, but decided to stay close to home. He went to nearby Henderson State. Besides, Henderson State said it could use a receiver.
No hard feelings on Green's part, but Henderson State changed its mind and made him a defensive back for four years. Against the Ouachita Baptist Tigers and the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys, among others, Green became an NAIA all-America. Even more significantly, he became known to those who counted, pro scouts. Detroit, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago sent representatives. "The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sent their receiver coach," Green said. He liked that idea, being a receiver as he had been in high school. Just then, St. Louis drafted him.
"For a guy from the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference, being drafted on the fourth round was like being a first-round draft pick," Green said.
He was so happy he didn't mind trying just about every position. When the Cardinals got around to putting him at wide receiver, they had discovered nothing more than was known all along back at Magnolia.
In fact, the Cardinals didn't even know just how fast he was. It was training camp, 1983. A rookie burner was in camp, Lionel Washington, now the starting left cornerback. "We were doing 40-yard dashes," says Green. "They clocked him in 4.33. The coaches didn't think I could do that. I said, 'I'm going under 4.3.' I did 4.26. I kind of racked up on the bets that day."
That's when Green picked up his nickname. Mike Shumann, a since-departed receiver, dubbed him "Jet Stream."
Green's nickname is not yet a question in "Trivial Pursuit," but it might yet be. He's becoming known in ever-widening circles.