Darrell Green did today what a 39-year-old usually does on a football field: He coached. He stood on the Washington Redskins' practice field at Frostburg State University, wearing a baseball cap and instructing the team's first-round draft choice, cornerback Champ Bailey.
By Friday, Green will return to being Bailey's teammate and mentor, defying the odds as he prepares for his 17th NFL season. But as he savored the day off from practice, he reflected on one of the more remarkable careers in professional sports. "It's a great day for me to take a break and hang out with people my own age," Green said. "I am 39 years old. It's good for the old bones. Back about 16 or 17 camps ago, I had guys around me named Dave Butz and George Starke and this kid named Darrell Green said, `Wow, they get a day off.' Now it's my time, and I'm going to enjoy it. Even though I play an egotistic position, I have enough humility to say taking a day off is a good idea."
It has been an amazing run for this 5-foot-8, 184-pound dynamo. His resume includes seven Pro Bowls and three Super Bowls. Even last season, which the Redskins began 0-7 and finished 6-10, Green emerged with his dignity intact. He kept the Minnesota Vikings' rookie sensation, wide receiver Randy Moss, out of the end zone, and he saved touchdowns by catching a few of the league's fastest players -- including Oakland Raiders running back Napoleon Kaufman and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Frank Sanders -- from behind.
"Look at me," Green said today. "Does this body look like anything? They say I have decent-size calves. That's about it. I don't have any muscles. I don't have anything. . . . I'm just fortunate. God just watched over me. God just said, `This one over here, I'm going to add years.' It's like in your family, you have a grandmother who lives to 99. You say, `Grandma, what's your secret?' There isn't one. God just blessed her. I worked hard. I did what I had to do. I had the right approach and the right respect. There's no magic."
He is one of the few links between the Redskins' glorious past and their frustrating present. As Green held court with reporters today, one of his sons played catch a few feet away with former Redskins defensive end Charles Mann. Mann entered the league the same year -- 1983 -- that Green did. Mann retired nearly five years ago, after what was considered a long and productive career.
Green is five years older than the Redskins' new owner, Daniel Snyder. Officially, he no longer is the Redskins' fastest player. Wide receiver Albert Connell had the best times in the players' offseason sprints. But Green smiles at the mention of that. He was beaten, he says, only because he wore the wrong shoes -- and he intends to reclaim his title in a year.
"That was healthy for our team," Green said. "I think ultimately I'm still the fastest guy on our team. I can say that with a straight face. . . . Believe me, I haven't missed a lot of sleep saying I can't run because I know I can."
Green maintains he has made no concessions to his age in recent seasons, changing little or nothing about his playing style.
"I've been kind of like Kentucky Fried Chicken, just doing one thing," Green said. "Just chicken, no hamburgers."
The Redskins say they can sense something special brewing in this training camp, and they hope they have found a building block in Bailey. Green doesn't necessarily see a young version of himself in Bailey -- "I was a little more loud and energetic," Green said -- but he does see a potentially dominant cornerback. And he's doing his best to ensure that Bailey's road to stardom is a smooth one.
"Champ is way ahead of the ballgame," Green said. " . . . With the type of talent and character this guy has displayed very early, we should be very proud. . . . I'm not a coach or anything, but I am strategic in how I approach it. You've got to let a guy do it his way and make his mistakes, and then you approach him."
Green remains as humble and personable as ever. His house and his car do not stand out in his Ashburn neighborhood. He says he keeps playing, in large part, so he can keep helping kids with his charitable foundation. When he visits elementary schools and children tell him athletes are their heroes, he tells them to reevaluate. He takes it all in stride, from the woman who called him a jerk today for declining to sign an autograph as he rushed off for an appointment, to the fans who yelled his name gleefully as he spoke to reporters.
"When people are screaming your name, it isn't normal," Green said. "This stuff can make you whacked. I think about that a lot. . . . People tell you how great you are, and suddenly your wife isn't good enough for you. Your kids aren't good enough for you. That car isn't good enough for you. I've seen it all.
"When you sign that deal, you sign to be responsible on and off the field. That's my opinion. That's a conscious decision that I make. All it takes is one time. If one time Darrell Green got arrested for soliciting a prostitute, I would be fine. I probably wouldn't go to jail. I'd still have money. But what about the kids? What would they think?"