Darrell Green's pace was brisk Monday afternoon, the first day of the final week of his NFL career being lived the same way he had played most of his games with the Washington Redskins, which is to say fast. Very fast. He stepped into his blue BMW 325i for the winding, five-minute drive home from Redskins Park in Ashburn, talking rapidly on his cell phone.
There were six days before one of the greatest players in franchise history retired at age 42, and the demands on his time came from all directions. About 200 former teammates, friends and relatives were set to attend the game today against the Dallas Cowboys and he had to finalize the speech he will give during the pregame ceremony in which he will be added to the FedEx Field Ring of Fame. And it was also Christmas week, the holiday requiring its own set of commitments.
"It's going to be a special time," Green said. "Not just so much because of my friends and family, but others who have been here for years as they watched how God has blessed Darrell Green."
But on Monday afternoon a more mundane matter than his NFL-record 313th game dominated Green's mind: fixing a broken pipe, which was causing a leak from the ceiling of his garage.
So after arriving home at 2 p.m. he put aside the Chinese food he had picked up on the way from Redskins Park and got back on his cell phone.
"Here's what I've got," Green told a repairman. "I have family coming in for the holidays and all that good stuff. I've got a critical situation. I have water leaking in my garage. I can fix it myself -- I just need assistance.
"I had to cut a hole in my garage [ceiling]. And I'm thinking my pipe is going to be sitting there. And it's not. I can't see it. I can't figure out where it's even coming from."
The person couldn't help locate the pipe, but promised to get back to Green later. So the cornerback took a moment to eat at his kitchen table, which overlooks the family basketball court with its blue lanes, and balls scattered around surrounding trees.
As Green ate while being interviewed, his cell phone rang incessantly. Green balances life with his wife Jewell and their three children, boys Jerrell, 16, Jared, 13, and daughter Joi, 12, with several business endeavors, community activities and, of course, the Redskins. Most of the energy the cornerback expends off the field is toward the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation, which he founded in 1988 to benefit underprivileged children. So Green is in constant contact with myriad business partners, associates and friends, cell phone to ear as if it were a clothing item.
"I don't like to be on the cell phone," said Green, wearing a black jacket with white stripes, beige mock neck and matching, corduroy pants. "But I have to."
Green's cell phone rang on cue before he put it on silent mode.
Heading downstairs to check on a possible location of the faulty pipe, Green walked past a black-and-white picture of himself and Jared, taken after the Redskins defeated the Buffalo Bills, 37-24, in the 1992 Super Bowl.
Jared, 3 at the time, sits on Green's right shoulder -- father and son wearing the same size cap emblazoned "Super Bowl XXVI."
Until this year, the framed picture -- titled "Victory Ride" -- was one of the few things in the three-story home that suggested Green was a Redskin. Almost everything from a career that has included seven Pro Bowls and an NFL-record 19 consecutive seasons with at least one interception, had been in storage.
"It might sound [silly] being a Redskin for 20 years," Green said, about having put away the memorabilia, "but it was always important to have balance in our lives."
But in September, Green held a party for the Darrell Green Business Council For Youth, which supports his foundation and he decorated his entertainment area, which has a pool table, with some awards and memorabilia.
He also had a life-sized mural painted across two short walls. On the mural is a scoreboard: Skins 38, 'Boys 3 with the clock showing 5:47 left. Under the scoreboard was written: "Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation."
The Redskins' defenders depicted in the mural span Green's career, including defensive end Dexter Manley (with Washington from 1981-89), shown nipping at the quarterback's heels, tackle Dave Butz (1975-88), tackle Tim Johnson (1990-95), defensive end Charles Mann (1983-93), linebacker Monte Coleman (1979-94), cornerback Scott Turner (1995-97), safety Ken Houston (1973-80), cornerback Vernon Dean (1982-87) and, finally, Green, who is depicted with determination and concentration in his eyes, hovering over wideout Michael Irvin while breaking up a pass.
"Before you'd never see any Redskins stuff," said Green, whose No. 28 is expected to be retired next season, only the second jersey retired in club history. "This time, I went beyond."
Monday afternoon, Green's eyes were more focused on an unfinished bowl of cereal that had been left in the kitchen. Muttering something ominous, Green dialed the phone to call his daughter upstairs. "Get off that computer, Joi," Green said firmly. "You can't be on the phone and the computer. Come down and get this cereal bowl out of here."
Green hung up without waiting for a response. And several seconds later, Joi hurried down the stairs to remove the bowl.
Green takes his kids to school most mornings before practice. A downside to the glamour of being a professional athlete is the limited time with children. (A controversy ensues when an NFL player misses a game for the birth of his child.) So the most appealing aspect of giving up football for the first time in 20 years is getting more time at home.
"I have a lot out there and I need to strengthen my presence in the Green family," said Green, who is also an elder at Grace Covenant Church. "My presence is there. But it's not physically there as much.
"A lot of the things that normal people do, I didn't get to do those things. So after [today], I can get to my children's school. I can get to see my [relatives] more often."
Despite possibly being admonished more often about where she leaves her cereal bowls, Joi is looking forward to his time at home. "I like to go to football games," said Joi, a wide smile revealing braces. "But it should be fun to see him more."
When asked what her father's final week has been like, Joi replied. "He's tired."
By Monday night, Green had obtained the blueprint of his house and, with the help of three others, fixed the faulty pipe, which was behind a shelf. "It was crazy," Green said.
Because Tuesday was Christmas Eve, Coach Steve Spurrier, who will insert Green in the starting lineup today so he can be introduced to the crowd with his teammates, decided Christmas Eve practice would end early. So Green planned to use the free time to buy a last-minute gift for Jewell.
But first, as players changed after practice, Green hustled around the locker room with a holiday card for them to sign. The card was for B.J. Blanchard, the receptionist at Redskins Park for the past decade, who is popular among the players and considered a treasure to the organization.
"Hey, Mrs. B, take the rest of the year off," said Green before giving her the Christmas card.
Said Blanchard: "Thank you. Hey, Darrell, I'm really going to miss you."
When Green settled in his stall before showering, defensive end Renaldo Wynn asked the cornerback to autograph a helmet.
"If I see it on eBay," Green warned as he signed, "I know where to find you."
Wynn replied. "You're not going to see that on eBay. I promise you."
It's nothing out of the ordinary for Green -- or other renowned Redskins -- to sign equipment for teammates. But the requests picked up markedly in Green's final week, and there has been a spike in the sale of Green's jerseys at outlets that sell Redskins paraphernalia. (The club has also given Green permission to use its colors and logo for the cornerback's own line of merchandising, and the sales of those items will benefit his foundation.) Sticking out of a pile of clothes in LaVar Arrington's stall, next to Green's, were cleats that the cornerback wore against the Houston Texans last week.
The Redskins linebacker asked for Green's shoes after the game, and his teammate of three seasons obliged.
"That's greatness -- anything you can get a hold of," said Arrington, who had contemplated asking for Green's jersey. "You don't do that with just anybody."
Three hours later, Green hoped to be just anybody shopping at Tysons Corner on Christmas Eve. Green wore white running shoes, blue jeans and black coat over a black mock neck. It was an hour before a weekly appearance on the "Darrell Green Show," which airs on Sports Radio 980-AM from the Redskins Store in the mall.
During Green's rookie season, he met his future wife at the mall on Christmas Eve, 1983 -- "my greatest Christmas gift." At the time, Green was with Vernon Dean, his road roommate as a rookie. Green first spotted Jewell at Hecht's. With that memory in mind, Green went to the department store to buy her perfume. "We do a lot of symbolic stuff," Green said.
Afterward, Green went to Tie Rack and bought a small, black purse. Then Green headed to fill it with a jewelry item from Bloomingdale's, the place where he spoke to Jewell for the first time 19 years ago. After Green entered the store, a woman approached him and excitedly said: "We'll miss you. You still look the same as 20 years ago: You still look good."
"Thanks," Green said before heading to the jewelry department.
Green asked a jeweler, Pegah Azizi, to try on some items. A few minutes later, after she modeled a silver wristband, Green knew he had his wife's gift. Azizi was oblivious to her customer's celebrity, and the cornerback seemed to enjoy the temporary anonymity. But soon, a few customers started gawking. When Green handed his credit card to Azizi she asked, "Can you sign Darrell Green? Isn't that a famous name in football?"
There was no question about Green's celebrity when he headed toward the Redskins Store for his radio show.
Earlier in the day, Rick "Doc" Walker, the radio personality and former Redskins tight end, told listeners Green would sign autographs. The fans didn't know Walker, who played with the Redskins from 1980 to 1985, was playing a practical joke on his buddy. At first, Green politely declined to sign -- his policy at the mall -- and tried to make up for it with handshakes and small talk. After Green explained to fans that he couldn't start signing because his show was starting shortly, a playful Walker, sitting nearby, started to egg them on.
"You all followed this man for 20 years, 20 years, 20 years," Walker grinningly told the fans who started to surround Green. "You guys have come all the way down here."
A few fans followed Walker's lead and pleaded with Green to sign. Mark Wimbush, a cable technician, wore a No. 28 jersey and held another one in his right hand. Wimbush repeatedly stressed to Green that he took great trouble to be there. Green suggested that the fans complain to the radio station about Walker's announcement. But with a few shoppers begging and appearing saddened -- "I even bought raffle tickets," one said -- Green finally capitulated, with one condition: Everyone had to write a $20 check to his foundation as a donation. (Green is so partial to his foundation that the cornerback has asked the Redskins to forsake the perfunctory parting gifts and instead make a donation.) "Don't you all listen to Doc Walker anymore," said Green, shooting Walker a look that promised paybacks. "I'm out here spending my family time on Christmas Eve. So you're going to help my [foundation] kids."
Some people asked to give cash because they didn't have checkbooks. Green agreed but insisted on personalizing the autographs, which makes them less valuable on the memorabilia market. For several minutes, Green signed everything from Christmas cards to posters.
Souphalack Xayachak, 22, said to Green: "Put: 'I'm the greatest cornerback ever.' "
Green responded: "I can't say that about myself."
Xayachak, smiling: "Then put: 'I'm going to come back one more year.' "
Green, grinning: "I'm definitely not going to say that."
On Sept. 4, 2001, Green announced that last season would be his final one. But three months later, Green postponed his retirement. Green says it was one of the most difficult decisions in his life. But the cornerback had wanted to increase awareness of his foundation while still a player, and had settled differences with then-coach Marty Schottenheimer.
"I don't fear change," Green said. "In football, you have a game plan. Typically, something happens different. But you still [try to] get the same results.
"I still expect the same result. I may wake up one day and say: 'Man, I want to play.' And I'll overcome that. Ultimately, I'm looking forward to where I'm going from this point."
Green is part owner of Covenant Ventures/Covenant Learning, a partnership that promotes learning through the Internet while introducing investment opportunities. The cornerback heads Darrell Green Trusted Solution Group, a company that focuses on government contracting for residents of high-unemployment communities. And then there's Darrell Green Enterprises, his marketing company, which handles areas such as autographed memorabilia.
"Whether I'm covering a wide receiver or building a learning center," said Green, who played at Texas A&I and has a bachelor of science degree from St. Paul's College in Lawrenceville, Va., "or managing my household or being an elder in my church or building businesses, whatever I'm doing, the objective is to win."
Wednesday morning the Greens opened their Christmas gifts together after the cornerback said a prayer. Jewell was thrilled to hear that her silver wrist band was purchased from the store where they first met. "My wife loved it," Green said, "because of the symbolism."
After opening their gifts, the Greens went to the family portrait, which sits over the fireplace. They reflected and reminisced, and then discussed the significant changes that would occur after today.
"We reflected on it being normal," Green said of the Christmas get-together, "our normal life for the future."
Before Thursday's practice, Green held an interview session with about a dozen reporters to discuss his retirement. Green is notorious for being difficult to pin down for an interview because of his hectic schedule. But when Green responds to questions, he's liable to expound on the simplest query. And Thursday the session went 45 minutes, which was well past the allotted time.
Despite a countdown of his final practices -- "two more left," said cornerback Champ Bailey -- teammates still didn't detect any changes in Green's demeanor late in the week. "He's going about things the same as the past three years," safety David Terrell, a third-year player, said Thursday. "This guy is running around the field, laughing or joking. I don't think it's really going to hit him or us until Sunday, or after the [final] meeting."
Bailey went one yard farther: "I think it'll probably hit him next year when training camp starts, and he's watching the game on TV."
Around 10 p.m. Thursday, Jared retrieved tapes of the NFL's Fastest Man competitions and the family watched them together. Green won the contest four times, beating track stars such as Willie Gault, Ron Brown and Herschel Walker. (In 1991, Green was named the World's Fastest Athlete.) Watching the tapes with the Greens was Tim Johnson, the former Redskin and Green's best friend. Johnson, a defensive tackle, was in town for the game with his wife and four children.
The retrospective viewing expanded to include tapes of the Redskins from 1990 to 1995, when Johnson played with Green.
During his final practice Friday, Green was the most bubbly cornerback. But his fellow defensive backs admitted feeling sadness but tried not to reveal it. Over the past few seasons, teammates good-naturedly poked fun of Green, giving him monikers like "old man" and "godfather." But instead of increasing the jokes Friday, Green's teammates kept them to a minimum.
"We didn't rip him up," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "We let him sit back and relax. After 20 years, he's heard all the ripping you can hear."
"I can't say [practice] was normal. It was more like you're losing somebody, like somebody was getting cut and you knew it."
Walking off the field, Green carried his helmet while smiling and chatting with teammates before heading into the locker room. Green's son Jared and 13-year-old nephew Reginald awaited in the locker room. While Green conducted some interviews, Jared went with Arrington around the corner to shoot hoops at the facility's basketball court. By the time Jared returned, Green had changed into a black mock neck and navy jeans.
"Dad," Jared said, tapping his father on the leg, "He [Arrington] dunked on me five times."
Green said: "And what did you do back?"
(Arrington won 10-9 because, as Jared said of the Pro Bowler: "He wasn't playing good 'D.' ") Like Joi, Jared expressed ambivalence about his father's retirement. "It's kind of half and half," the 13-year-old said, "because I'm going to miss [visiting the locker room]. These are my friends. But also, it's going to be fun, him being around more."
Green is often one of the last players to leave the locker room. But Friday, the cornerback seemed to be especially deliberate. Green put three large boxes in front of his stall and filled them with his jerseys, sweat pants, cleats, etc.
Green was done when Arrington, sitting next to the cornerback, asked if the Redskins were going to remove the name on Green's stall. The cornerback nodded, and said: "As a matter of fact, let me take it right now."
Green removed the black name plate with white lettering -- the last thing to go in the box.
Afterward, Green conducted several television interviews before talking to several Redskins officials to say goodbye and finalize plans for Sunday. The cornerback didn't finish until after 5 p.m.
As the skies darkened, Darrell Green was the last player to leave Redskins Park.
The cornerback put one box in the trunk of his BMW and two boxes in the back seat. Jared sat in the front seat and Reginald in the back. "Everybody is thinking," Jared said softly to a reporter, "just thinking about [Green's retirement]. They don't really know what it's going to be like."
Then Darrell Ray Green took the winding roads back home, never to return to Redskins Park as a player.