Darrell Green always dreamed big as a kid in Houston, even though he was too small to get much attention on the football field.
"In middle school, I actually played for my elementary school," he said during a recent conference call. "Instead of playing with guys my age, I played with the guys my size."
Green would run home 11/2 miles every day to play football after school with his younger friends, but eventually he stopped. "Obviously, I got too old, and in eighth grade, I didn't play. I was a little afraid, a little small," he said.
But today in Canton, Ohio, nobody will stand taller.
The 5-foot-8 cornerback for the Washington Redskins is among six players being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The others are Green's longtime teammate, wide receiver Art Monk; defensive end Fred Dean; cornerback Emmitt Thomas; linebacker Andre Tippett; and offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman.
Green, a No. 1 draft pick taken 28th overall in 1983, played 20 seasons with the Redskins. A standout from Texas A&I University (now Texas A&M-Kingsville), he made an immediate impact for third-year coach Joe Gibbs, returning a punt 61 yards for a touchdown in a preseason game, starting all 16 regular-season games and finishing runnerup to the Colts' Vernon Maxwell, an Arizona State linebacker drafted 29th, for defensive rookie of the year.
It was just a small sign of things to come. Green soon established himself as an elite defensive back known for his extraordinary speed, durability and consistency. A four-time winner of the league's fastest-man contest, he had at least one interception in 19 straight seasons, along the way setting a team mark with 54.
He was also an elusive punt returner, averaging 12 yards. And by the time he retired after the 2002 season, he had been voted to seven Pro Bowls, played an integral role in two Washington Super Bowl championship seasons and earned NFL man of the year honors in 1996. He was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1990s.
Not bad for a guy who turned away from the game at Houston's Jessie H. Jones High School and focused on sprinting, where his diminutive stature wasn't a hindrance.
"Tenth grade, I ran track, and 11th grade I walked out there to be put on the junior varsity (football team)," said Green, 48. "Wasn't my plan, but that's what happened. And I made the varsity my senior year."
He was all-state in track and soon parlayed his speed and tenacity into all-city performances in football. "I needed some help getting over the fear and insecurity of being told how little I was and how I can't play," he said.
Nobody questioned Green by the time he headed to Kingsville, where he became an All-America Division II cornerback as a senior and the Lone Star Conference defensive player of the year. In track, he clocked 10.08 seconds in the 100 meters as a senior; the only collegian with a faster time was future Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis.
Green credits his success to the work ethic he learned from his mother and father, who worked many years as a lab technician for Maxwell House Coffee. "He was a pretty sharp guy, and he was a guy who went to work every day (and) taught us," Green said. "We cut the yard. We washed his car. We were from the days that kids did what their dads and parents said to do. … We learned a lot from my parents, just by what they did and said, and it absolutely carried over to my success."
Green not only enters the Hall with ex-teammate Monk but also a former assistant coach. Thomas played for the Chiefs but coached receivers and defensive backs for Washington during Green's 1986-94 tenure.
"You know, (Thomas) coached Art first before transferring over to defense," Green said. "He told me, 'Just do what you've been doing … because you know what it takes at that position.' ''
Green stays active in the Washington area, where in 1988 he founded the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation, an organization for boys and girls in need. The focal point is his Youth Life Learning Centers, which stress the need for education and strong values. He also is active with Big Brothers of America. In 1998, Green completed a bachelor's degree in general studies and social science at St. Paul's College in Lawrenceville, Va., and has an honorary doctorate from Marymount University in Arlington, Va.
As for the Redskins, Green says they will be fine with new coach Jim Zorn taking over for Gibbs. "I think this is a great time for Zorn," he said. "Hopefully he can be the new young Joe Gibbs."
Green's football focus isn't only the Redskins. Jared, the only boy among three children with wife Jewell, is a redshirt freshman wide receiver at the University of Virginia. Who's faster?
"He just told me today that he's been burning them up, so I would have to say he is," Green said of the 6-foot-2, 178-pounder. "From what I'm understanding, I think I'm officially the second-fastest guy in the family."