For nearly a month, the fastest human in Centreville, Va., thought he might be able to combine three of the finest things in life: history, money and fun. Darrell Green all but had his track shoes laced for an assault on the indoor and outdoor sprints.
The Redskins' 26-year-old cornerback had reestablished his track credentials by smoking Herschel Walker and some other elite pro football players in a 60-yard dash exhibition during a major meet in Dallas Feb. 1.
Green said his time was the fastest ever, but that "some sort of foulup" kept it from being celebrated as a world best. Still, he was pleased to have won a race billed as something of a Dallas debut for Cowboys draftee Walker.
Having run so swiftly, Green knocked on some doors. He was hopeful ancient prejudices that had kept other world-class athletes off the world's tracks had been overcome.
Finally, more than half a century too late, the president of the International Olympic Committee had endorsed the notion of an open Olympics. And the president of the international governing body for track and field had said it was fine by him for pros in another sport to compete against his alleged amateurs.
This was stunning progress.
Never mind that amateurs such as Carl Lewis had been making quite a lot more than professionals such as Darrell Green for years. Never mind that Renaldo Nehemiah may have taken a pay cut to leave the amateur ranks.
An amateur was an amateur and a pro was a pro. The twain could meet, keepers of the Olympic torch insisted, but never in the same competition.
A track meet is the most basic form of sport. You run and you jump; you throw very long sticks, sail miniature manhole covers and heave used cannon balls. Until recently, however, the least complicated sports were the most complex for the athletes.
It then developed that once-sacred rules about amateurism were like the bargaining position of the pro football union a few years ago: not totally etched in stone.
Pros in another sport may compete in track and field, after all. Nehemiah can catch passes for the San Francisco 49ers and also glide over the 100-meter hurdles; Green can cover Willie Gault of the Bears in the fall and run against him in the spring.
That's next spring.
Not this spring, unfortunately for Green.
Like any sophisticated sprinter, Green wanted to get out of the blocks as quickly as possible under the apparent new guidelines. He wanted to participate in the Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden, but couldn't.
Only yesterday was Green certain exactly why he was denied. Although the president of the international governing body for track and field gave his blessing for reasonably open competition, the entire congress must ratify it.
"That's sort of a rubber stamp," an official of the U.S. governing body, The Athletics Congress, admitted yesterday from New York. But the rubber stamp does not convene until August.
By August, Green, Gault, the Rams' Ron Brown, the 49ers' Michael Carter and Nehemiah will be well into training camp. Except for Nehemiah, all of the aforementioned have solid NFL careers.
"A lot would have had to have come into play," Green said of the track and field possibilities during this offseason. "There would have had to have been some type of compensation. I'd have had to have been able to establish proper conditioning -- and been able to fit it into my other schedule.
"But was I interested? Yeah. I'd have been dumb not to have been. I'm not one to have sat back and said no. I pushed it for about a week."
In the spring and summer of 1983, Green chose the Redskins over a chance at the legendary Lewis. Had similar draft circumstances been a year later, Green might have tried to combine both the Olympics and the NFL.
Brown took the gamble -- and won. A second-round selection in the same draft that Green was a No. 1, Brown stayed an amateur in '83 and won a gold medal as a member of the U.S. 4-x-100 relay team in Los Angeles.
He, Gault and Green are the best kick returners in the league; Green made the pro bowl at cornerback his second season.
On the football field and on the track, Green is sure of himself, but not stupidly cocky. He believes he is the fastest man in the NFL, but who knows for certain?
Gault ran back a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown against the Redskins last season in Chicago; matched game-long against Green, he did not catch a pass.
If Green were matched in a sprint against Lewis, he said, he would be confident of victory. A matchup while he was at Texas A&I was "a fingertip away from reality."
"And I can only think about next year next year," he said, knowing that even a slight injury near season's end could spoil a track comeback.
Green is scheduled in one more of those NFL-type sprints in April, he said. As much as the 1988 Olympics might intrigue him, it's an impossibility. If the Seoul Games actually take place, they will be held during the regular NFL season.
"Besides," Green says, jokingly, "by 1988 [in track terms], I'll be 50 years old."