Yes, Darrell Green admitted, he has heard of the sophomore jinx.
"But," the Redskins' second-year cornerback said, "any person who believes in God doesn't believe in jinxes, too."
In training camp this season, long before anyone ever associated jinxes with Darrell Green, defensive coach Richie Petitbon said Green's world-class speed and world-class gumption might make him "the cornerback of the '80s."
And why shouldn't Petitbon have made such a statement? After all, the visions of Green in his rookie year were quite special.
Like the time he raced across field to catch Dallas' Tony Dorsett from behind on a 77-yard run. Or the time he intercepted a pass thrown by the Rams' Vince Ferragamo and returned it 72 yards for a touchdown in the Redskins' 51-7 playoff victory. Green raised an index finger at the Rams' 40, leaving no doubt who was No. 1. He made seven tackles and batted away six passes. And what about all of those flying body tackles?
On Monday, however, Petitbon had changed his tone. "Darrell hasn't been able to make any plays . . . He's in a slump," he said. "He's gotten to some balls, but dropped them. He just needs something good to happen to him."
And Thursday, quite some time after teammates had been telling Green that he had seemed unusually quiet, Coach Joe Gibbs called the 5-foot-8, 170-pound Texan into his office to tell him the same thing.
"It's like everybody was holding up a mirror for me to see myself," said Green, the 24-year-old teammates like to call MX (as in missile), Ten-Speed or just plain Pee Wee.
The reason for the mirror was that this season has carried new, less majestic visions of Green.
Like the time he gave up a 26-yard touchdown pass in the opener to Miami receiver Mark Duper then, in the same game, was outleaped by Mark Clayton on a nine-yard touchdown pass. Or the time Giants receiver Bobby Johnson beat him for a 27-yard touchdown or the time Patriots receiver Stephen Starring beat him for a 38-yard touchdown or the time Cardinals receiver Roy Green beat him for a 38-yard touchdown, or just last week when Giants receiver Earnest Gray beat him for a 23-yard touchdown. Sports Illustrated even put the Clayton catch on its cover, with Green reaching out in futility toward the headline that read "Air Raid!"
These visions prompted Gibbs to call Green into his office. Green, a cornerback who is usually happy and almost frenetic, had grown more silent with each touchdown allowed.
"We've talked a couple of times this year," Gibbs said after yesterday's practice, "and I think what had happened to Darrell is that he was beaten three or four times by a total of maybe five or six inches. I think because Darrell is young, he had a tendency to say to himself, 'I'm not playing well so I better back off and not be a vocal leader.'
"I told Darrell that I think he's a great player. He had quieted down a little bit and I think that affected him and the team. He's one of our leaders. I told him that he plays a tough position and that everybody knows that . . . I told him that he will make great plays and that it's a matter of right here," Gibbs said, holding two fingers about an inch apart, merely the difference between last season and this season for Green.
Green is hardly in a state of despair. "With me, I was born with enthusiasm, a happy nature," he said. "When you go through the traumas of losing you lose your natural personality, I guess.
"Coach Gibbs told me, 'Be yourself.' I said, 'Goodness, I knew this year was going bad for me, but if I've changed, I better get back to being myself.' I guess it's only human when things don't go completely your own way that you would withdraw. I wasn't aware I had done that.
"My career hasn't even begun. I've got a long way to go. During these milk-drinking times, it means a lot for me to have people like Coach Gibbs and my teammates to be there."
His confidence on the field hasn't wavered, according to Green, and Gibbs agrees.
The way Green sees it, he not only is competing against wide receivers this season, he also is competing against the visions of himself last season.
"You gotta look at it like this," Green said. "Everything that a person does is weighed against what he's already done. See, I'm playing good ball this year, but I think I played what most people would say was great ball last year."
Being exposed in a moment of defeat on the cover of Sports Illustrated did not bother Green, he said.
"Some things in football can't be stopped," he said, thinking of quarterback Dan Marino's lob scoring pass to receiver Clayton. "It's not so much that (Clayton, who is 5-7) outjumped me, but more the kind of play it was. I was inside the red zone of 10 yards and the ball was up before I could see it. You have to give them that."
But that's about all he will yield. He said he doesn't believe he and cornerback Vernon Dean are comparable because both had magnificent rookie years and inconsistent second seasons. That's coincidence, he said.
Neither does Green believe in jinxes. He believes that he has snapped out of whatever had caused the latest visit to the coach's office.
And confidence? When asked if there is a better cornerback in the league than Darrell Green, this was his reponse: "No. At least, I don't know him.
"Well, I shouldn't say that. Let's say that there is not a better one potentially . . . I'm probably not the greatest now, but when it comes to my own personal thinking, I have to think that."
Tight end Don Warren (bruised thigh) returned to practice yesterday. Although he is listed as questionable (50-50), he said he thinks he will play against Atlanta Monday night at RFK. If not, rookie Anthony Jones would fill his spot.