For some of the National Football League's top players participating in today's Pro Bowl in Honolulu, the most important thing in the week-long working vacation is to get back to the mainland uninjured. For second-year cornerback Darrell Green of the Washington Redskins, the week was a combination of awe and a learning experience.
"I've learned a lot during the week, and I expect I'll learn a lot more before its over," said Green, who has been criticized for relying too much on his speed and was beaten one-on-one in several key situations late in the season. "I think it's important to everyone here to play well in the game, but I think it's especially important for me."
Green is one of four Redskins representing the NFC, which is favored by two points today (WJLA-TV-7 at 4 o'clock). The NFC has defeated the AFC in six of the last seven games to take a 9-5 lead in the series.
Also starting for the NFC from the Redskins will be left offensive tackle Joe Jacoby and left guard Russ Grimm, both of whom made the Pro Bowl last year. Art Monk, who in 1984 set an NFL record for most receptions in a season, was selected as a reserve wide receiver. Last year, Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann was selected the game's most valuable player in a 45-3 victory by the NFC.
The Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers have 10 representatives playing for the NFC, the most of any team. Joe Montana will start at quarterback; his counterpart in the Super Bowl, Dan Marino of Miami, starts for the AFC.
The game has several special rules. Both teams must play a 3-4-4 defensive alignment, with man-for-man pass coverage. Using a fifth defensive back is permitted under certain situations, but using a sixth, as more and more teams did this season, is prohibited. In addition, one outside linebacker must blitz on every play, but two linebackers can blitz only on third-and-short situations.
Knowing that New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor is being forced to blitz cannot be the best of news for Marino, who labored against the 49ers' linebackers in the Super Bowl.
"I like the rules," said Green. "Nowadays, people blitz three or four linebackers. This way, it will give the game just enough excitement."
Defensive tackles Dan Hampton of the Chicago Bears and Randy White of the Dallas Cowboys are two players who will be most affected by the mandated alignments. They usually play on four-man lines, but will be nose guards on the three-man lines. Hampton does not like the special rule.
"It's too bad to be put in a position like this where they can slant down on you and frog around," said Hampton. "On top of that, Randy and I will be playing against (Miami center) Dwight Stephenson, who just happens to be the AFC's outstanding lineman . . . I'm going to be playing the nose a little cautiously. If you go out there and flop around, you can get hurt."
Green said NFC players are out for more than just the exercise, chiefly motivated by their coach, Mike Ditka of the Chicago Bears. Ditka has never been known to take anything leisurely. "The very first thing he said to us when we met was that he wanted to win the game," Green said.
Working in practice alongside defensive back Ronnie Lott of the 49ers and covering receivers such as Roy Green of the St. Louis Cardinals has been an education for cornerback Green.
"It's been really loose in practice all week, and nobody is worrying about anything in a technical way," Green said. "Most of the players have been here before, but each day hits me from a different perspective. Here it is only my second year in the league, and I'm around all these great players."