Much of the hill is gone, a forgotten casualty to progress on a blossoming campus. It was there in 1990, behind George Mason University’s Field House, that Darrell Green, future Hall of Famer, introduced newcomer Brad Edwards to a grass incline for piercing offseason workouts with other Washington Redskins.
Backward . . . forward . . . forward without using arms . . . 40, 50, 60 times . . . the kind of training that tormented hamstrings but helped forge the franchise’s last Super Bowl champion 25 years ago this month.
Today, to locate the vestige of their old training hell, the former defensive backs need only to step from their respective offices, stroll down the hall and exit the back door of that same sports venue on Route 123 in Fairfax.
Their football careers long over, they are teammates again at a university that, ironically, doesn’t have a football program. Edwards, 50, is in his third year as George Mason’s athletic director. Since August, Green, 56, has been his special assistant, applying his fame, community ties and engaging personality to raise funds for the department.
“We want to do something great here. We don’t want to tell our old stories about how we used to train over there,” Green said, nodding toward the hill. “Naw. There’s work to do.”
Their NFL careers overlapped four seasons (1990-93), highlighted by a Super Bowl XXVI victory against the Buffalo Bills in which Jim Kelly was intercepted by Edwards twice, Green once. Washington hasn’t been since.
Edwards played nine years in all, the Vikings and Falcons bookending his Washington tenure. Green enjoyed a 20-year career, all with the Redskins. Only Detroit place kicker Jason Hanson was with the same team longer (21). Green was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008 and remains one of the franchise’s most revered figures.
The duo stayed in touch over the years, as most Redskins of their generation did. “Always one degree of separation,” Green said, rattling off the names of former teammates and their families with whom he remains friendly.
Before accepting the Mason position, Edwards worked in the athletic department at his alma mater, South Carolina, and served as the AD at Newberry College (S.C.) and Jacksonville University.
When he interviewed for the Mason job in 2014, Edwards thought of Green, who, at the time, held a similar position at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va.
“I left a marker in my brain if ever something worked out in this area,” Edwards said.
Since leaving the Redskins, Edwards had driven past the campus a few times while visiting friends in Northern Virginia. But until his interview with Mason President Angel Cabrera, he had not spent time on campus since the days of those brutal workouts.
Memories of the hill came rushing back.
“My first day at Redskins Park in spring of 1990, we were in for half-days of meetings and lifting,” Edwards said. “We didn’t have any place to do track work. I was getting ready to leave when Darrell comes by and says, ‘Where are you going?’ ”
Green told him a group of players often went over to George Mason 14 miles away to use the track and run the hills.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to show these guys how to work hard,’ ” Edwards said. “Man, the warm-up on the track was a serious workout, and then Darrell says we’re going to do some ridiculous number of hills. I was like, ‘What?’ ”
Since joining the Redskins in 1983, Green has drawn comfort from the Northern Virginia community. He has lived in Reston, Vienna, Centreville and Ashburn.
“Mason was part of my normal world,” he said of decades using the athletic facilities, attending family events and speaking to groups large and small. “This was my back yard. It wasn’t like I was some star. I was just part of the neighborhood.”
Last year, Edwards created a position for Green. His title: associate athletic director, special assistant to the athletic director. His function: meeting potential donors in the region — and sometimes nationally — and spreading the good word about the university and its athletic programs.
Green has an office in the field house, but “if he’s in it, something’s wrong,” Edwards said. “I told him, ‘Here’s your office. I don’t ever want to see you in it.’ ”
Green is a natural communicator who pours passion into projects he holds dear. In 1988, he founded the Youth Life Foundation, a faith-based organization that runs after-school programs.
Fundraising for a university, he said, is “like playing cornerback. People say I make it look so easy. Cornerback is not easy. . . . This is a persuasive job. We have to show to a corporate partner that there is value here. You have to have a vision and be able to articulate it.”
His name helps get calls returned and his foot in the door. “I’m Darrell Green, but I am also George Mason,” he said. “Collectively, it equals 100 percent. I hope those two things combined help.”
Aside from seeking out donors, Green mixes with alumni and guests at EagleBank Arena during basketball games.
“He is everywhere,” said Dave Paulsen, the Patriots’ men’s basketball coach. “He’s working at it.”
Green said he likes what he and Edwards are building.
“First time after football, this is the first thing I’ve been around that smells like the Redskins under [Coach] Joe Gibbs,” he said. “It smells of that intensity and that possibility. Being around Brad, knowing our history, looking at our kids in different sports, we can do something.”
The presence of two executives wearing Super Bowl rings raises the question of whether George Mason will ever follow in the footsteps of other state schools and launch a football program.
“Every day, every meeting with alumni, I hear: ‘When are you starting football?’ ” Green said.
The answer: not anytime soon.
“We haven’t said ‘never’ to the football conversation, but the reality is, with the return on investment, our focus is on basketball,” Edwards said. “That’s the intelligent move, the wise move, that helps us in our mission in marketing our institution and engaging our community. For the money, relevance on the national level is in basketball.”
Paulsen uses Green’s story of excelling at a small program (Division II Texas A&I, now known as Texas A&M-Kingsville) to help motivate his players. Did his Patriots, some of whom were preschoolers when Green retired, even know who this former Redskin was?
“Some knew,” Paulsen said. “But these guys don’t remember the Final Four last year. Their view of history is a Snapchat. So unless you were from D.C. or a Redskins fan, you didn’t realize who he was.”
Sophomore guard Otis Livingston II learned about Green through, in part, his father, Otis, a sports anchor at the CBS affiliate in New York. He also got to know Green’s son, Jared, who leads a campus ministry.
This fall, the younger Livingston learned firsthand about Darrell Green’s speed, which won him four NFL Fastest Man competitions.
Paulsen invited Green to run sprints with the team during preseason conditioning exercises.
“They kicked my butt,” Green said of players who are more than 35 years his junior. “But I wasn’t going to let anyone lap me.”
Said Livingston: “It was joking around, but I wanted to make sure he didn’t beat me. I can only imagine him in his prime.”
As for taming the hill again . . .
“I’ve been grinding, but,” Green said with a laugh, “I don’t know about the hill. I’m getting around a lot in this job.”